In a rare display of contrition, Don Cherry told CityNews on Tuesday that if he had the chance to take his usual seat as the cantankerous co-host of Coach’s Corner on Saturday night, he would apologize — not for the sentiment behind the poppy rant that led to his firing, but for his choice of words.
“On Saturday I would have apologized if I hurt people and stuff like that, I think I would have,” Cherry said in his first on-camera interview since his dismissal on Monday.
Cherry, who spent nearly four decades as hockey’s most colourful and controversial television personality, said he wasn’t trying to single out any specific group when he said ‘you people,’ and admitted that his choice of words was a mistake.
“I meant ‘everybody,’ but I said the wrong thing … if that’s the way people want to take it, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“What I said was ‘you people.’ It could have been Irish, English, Scotch but it didn’t make any difference.”
“My ancestors came from Ireland and Scotland,” he added. “So everybody is an immigrant here, except First Nations … but it doesn’t make any difference … that’s the way it is. And I’m not apologizing, that’s the way it is.”
Cherry caused an uproar when he unleashed a rant during Saturday night’s Coach’s Corner segment that seemed to single out immigrants for not wearing poppies.
“You people …that come here … 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 while co-host Ron MacLean sat silently.
“These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”
The former minor league player and coach of the Boston Bruins said he offered to try to make amends, but it wasn’t enough to appease his employers.
Cherry and Sportsnet parted ways on Monday. “It has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down,” Sportsnet said in a release.
But before that decision came down, Cherry said he tried to fix the situation and keep his job.
“I offered to come on, and put out a note. But it wasn’t enough and they wanted me to do more and I wasn’t prepared to do it, it’s that simple,” he said. “I could’ve had my job back if I agreed to do those things and I said ‘No.'”
“It’s a good way to go out, if I gotta go.”
The 85-year-old wouldn’t elaborate on what was asked of him by his employers, but expressed regret for losing his long-time, and quite lucrative job.
“I wish I had said ‘everybody’ but I didn’t and you can’t go back … I did it and I’m paying the price.”
He also said he was “very disappointed” in co-host Ron MacLean. MacLean, who was criticized for sitting silently and giving a thumbs-up after Cherry’s rant, apologized during Sunday’s Hometown Hockey broadcast, calling Cherry’s words “hurtful” and “discriminatory.”
“I sat there, did not catch it, did not respond,” MacLean added.
Cherry thinks MacLean went too far in his apology.
“I’m very disappointed in him and I think he wouldn’t have been quite as strong (in his apology) if he had a do-over again.”
“I’m very disappointed, (but) he’s still a friend.”
When asked if his stubborn refusal to change with the times led to his ultimate demise on Hockey Night in Canada, Cherry wouldn’t budge.
“The world has not changed, everybody thinks it’s changed … but the core is still there.”
“I’m not going to change,” he added, “Because I’ve only got a couple of years left anyhow.”
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