TORONTO — The Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council has been so overloaded with complaints about hockey commentator Don Cherry’s rant over the weekend that it hit the limit of the organization’s technical processing capacity.
Sportsnet apologized Sunday for Cherry’s comments on “Coach’s Corner” about his belief that new immigrants don’t wear poppies, and in turn, don’t support veterans. The outburst sparked a swift backlash from the public, politicians and the National Hockey League.
“The CBSC has received a large number of very similar complaints concerning Coach’s Corner broadcast on CBC (Sportsnet) on November 9, 2019, exceeding the CBSC’s technical processing capacities,” the CBSC said on its website.
“Accordingly, while the CBSC will be dealing with this broadcast under its normal process, it is not able to accept any further complaints.”
The CBSC is a self-regulatory organization created by Canada’s private broadcasters to deal with complaints from viewers or listeners about programs they have seen or heard broadcast on a participating station.
Coach’s Corner is a popular segment on “Hockey Night in Canada,” which is broadcast on CBC in a sub-licensing deal with Rogers Media, which owns Sportsnet.
Cherry, 85, singled out new immigrants in Toronto and Mississauga, Ont., where he lives, for not honouring Canada’s veterans and dead soldiers.
“You people … you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that,” Cherry said Saturday night. “These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”
Cherry did not respond to phone calls seeking comment and has not publicly apologized. Segment co-host Ron MacLean apologized Sunday evening.
“Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory, which were flat out wrong … I owe you an apology, too. I sat there, did not catch it, did not respond,” MacLean said. “Last night was a really great lesson to Don and me. We were wrong, and I sincerely apologize. I wanted to thank you for calling me and Don on that last night.”
Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley provided a statement on Sunday morning.
“Don’s discriminatory comments are offensive and they do not represent our values and what we stand for as a network,” he said. “We have spoken with Don about the severity of this issue and we sincerely apologize for these divisive remarks.”
It wasn’t clear if discipline might be forthcoming ahead of the next scheduled “Coach’s Corner” segment on Saturday.
A message left with a Rogers Media spokesperson requesting an interview with Yabsley and/or Rogers Media president Jordan Banks was not immediately returned.
Banks took on the role two months ago. Yabsley, who was named Sportsnet president last March, was asked about Cherry’s future in a sitdown interview with The Canadian Press in late September.
“He’s a very smart broadcaster,” Yabsley said at the time. “Make no mistake. He knows what he’s saying. And as far as Ron goes, if there’s a more talented broadcaster in the country, I don’t know who it is. He’s absolutely fabulous.”
Criticism of Cherry’s comments poured in quickly as video clips of the segment circulated online. A consistently polarizing figure throughout his long broadcasting career, supporters of Cherry’s viewpoint also weighed in on social media.
A message left with Labatt Breweries, whose label Budweiser is a segment sponsor, was not immediately returned.
Bob McKenzie, a longtime hockey broadcaster on TSN, chimed in on the Cherry controversy Monday morning in a radio interview with TSN 690 in Montreal.
“When anybody starts any kind of admonishment or whatever with, ‘You people,’ you know that it’s not going to a place that is good at all,” McKenzie said.
“I find it absolutely abhorrent that Don Cherry would suggest that good Canadians wear poppies and those who have moved to Canada — obviously I didn’t use the word ‘immigrants’ but that’s what he was referring to — but that immigrants don’t wear poppies when the reality is, and I think we all know this, there are lots of born and bred Canadians who don’t wear poppies for whatever reason.”
Hockey Night in Canada was a longtime CBC Saturday night staple, but the show and its games moved to Sportsnet when Rogers landed a $5.2-billion, 12-year national broadcast rights deal with the NHL that began in 2014.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 11, 2019.
With files from Canadian Press reporter Salmaan Farooqui. Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press