Don Cherry Slams Anti-Fighting “Pukes”

Don Cherry came out swinging yesterday – swinging against those people, including some notable former NHL pugilists, who believe that fighting should not have a place in hockey. During his Coach’s Corner segment on last night’s NHL season opener, the colourful and controversial Hockey Night in Canada commentator proved that there are, in fact, three sure things in life: death, taxes, and Cherry’s intractable belief in an outdated and violent code of masculine honour in hockey. Here’s the video:

Many people were curious to see how Cherry would respond to an upsetting and tragic off-season in which three NHL fighters died. While the circumstances surrounding each death are different, and we must be cautious in drawing broad conclusions from or links between three different cases, we can at least say that the tragic deaths opened up space for dialogue on fighting in hockey and shed the spotlight on the many physical and mental health issues facing hockey players whose job includes regular fisticuffs.

The calls against fighting were growing stronger even before the deaths this summer. Even CBC commentator Mike Milbury, who had previously lamented the “pansification” of hockey, was moved to suggest that the role of fighting needs to be reconsidered. Not so Cherry. Rather, yesterday evening Cherry came out guns blazing against a wide range of people who he sees as distorting hockey away from its rough and tumble roots. Cherry declared that “people who are against fighting should be ashamed of [themselves].” Cherry’s conspiratorial view is that there is an anti-fighting establishment that capitalized on the tragedies to advance its agenda, rather than recognizing that the deaths created the space for a wider variety of anti-fighting views to be popularly aired and that their impact caused many people to reconsider their acceptance of violence in hockey.

Cherry saved most of his vitriol for former fighters who have recently spoken out against its role in hockey, calling Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan, and Jim Thomson a “bunch of pukes,” “turncoats”, and “hypocrites.” The basis of Cherry’s argument seems to be that because these men made a living dropping the gloves they should therefore be grateful and keep their mouths shut: “You guys were fighters, and now you don’t want guys [to] make the same living you did!”Funny, you’d think at a time when fighting is more hotly debated than anytime in recent memory we would want to hear from the experts: the people who actually did the job. By Cherry’s logic, no employees in any company should speak out against harmful practices in their job because they are getting paid. Apparently earning money for harmful or dangerous work strips you of the right to criticize aspects of your job or advocate for safer labour practices.

I am saddened, though not surprised, by Cherry’s outburst. Saddened, because he is one of the most prominent voices in hockey media and his populist persona resonates with many Canadians. Unsurprised, because Cherry has never hid his love of fighting and violence in the sport and, at this point, I see no reason why he would change his views. I sincerely hope this incident (to say nothing of his previous history of xenophobic and sexist comments) causes the CBC to take a serious look at Cherry’s role on the public broadcaster. Despite his enduring popularity, his views continue to place him at odds with the growing movement to make hockey a safer, less violent sport.

Sadly, any action by the CBC seems unlikely. Cherry is not only popular, but, according to some, politically expedient. As Charlie Smith argues in the Georgia Straight:

The bureaucrats at CBC enjoy having a rough-and-tough, jingoistic right winger on the hockey broadcasts because it keeps the Conservative government happy. . . . Cherry’s presence helps neutralize those Conservative MPs who want to cut CBC’s funding, sell the television network, or let the lucrative Hockey Night in Canada franchise slip away to a private broadcaster.

Despite Cherry’s seemingly ensconced position on Hockey Night in Canada, there is a serious groundswell within hockey against fighting and, hopefully, it will result in positive changes for the health and safety of its athletes.


6 thoughts on “Don Cherry Slams Anti-Fighting “Pukes”

  1. What a gem. First, I love how he blames the victim in Pacioretty for “antagonizing” chara, as if shoving Chara after a goal warrants a broken neck. Second, love how he says “enjoy if folks because you’ll never see it again”, as if we have ever enjoyed seeing players lie motionless after a hit. Big hits, sure, who doesn’t love them but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t feel their stomach drop when you see a player like Kariya unconscious after a hit.

  2. Regarding what he said against the three persons in question, I am curious as to why he said what he said; for instance, have they all come out against fighting in the NHL? At least one, if not a couple of them, are saying they did not. If so, it would be a nice gesture for Don to acknowledge their current position and at least verbally say he was mistaken in singling them out as being against fighting in the NHL, and just let them have it if that is what they are saying now. Regardless of what they may or may not have said previously. After all, I believe Mr. Cherry would not enjoy being misquoted, himself, and a person may change their opinion (if this even applies to this matter).

    As for how Mr. Cherry has expressed his opinion in this instance,… oh boy. I can’t agree with his approach. I don’t think he should be banned from expressing his opinion, but I think he should review what he is going to say with someone who he can both talk to and can hold him accountable, like Rose used to do at times (I believe it has been said). I dare to suggest his son, Tim, who has worked with him in the past as one option. Hopefully, too, by discussing it beforehand, he can temper his approach and express himself in a way that doesn’t take away or distract from the core of what he really wants to say. e.g. Avoid the raging lunatic persona more often and make the story about his point.

    Finally, I wish to note my disappointment in how Mr. Cherry is treated. He is often slammed as if his noteworthy harsh treatments of others justifies how he, himself, is treated. Lest anyone be any better… There is so much hate. Is Mr. Cherry such a threat? Will people only listen to persons they would be willing to be seen in public with? Is a person automatically disqualified from the possibility of being correct just because that person is _____? Regarding Mr. Cherry, indeed, is he someone who should be a role model? No (imo). Does he even need to be? Although I believe he should certainly behave himself better while open to his public audience, which garners influence. Moreover, is everything he says worthless? No again. Mr. Cherry has had his moments and has campaigned for causes that should neither be forgotten nor ignored–if he is to be treated as I would want to be treated. Should he still be on TV? Not so freely, without some sort of afore thought. However, his gimmicks aside, I will give him credit for still presenting enough interesting points, worthy of discussion, that I am still willing to at least listen to what he has to say and believe that he is ever relevant.

  3. Thanks for the comment! I agree with you that Cherry should be free to speak his mind, but I have a problem with him doing so on a public broadcaster that receives significant taxpayer funding. I feel that many of the stances he advocates (anti-immigrant, pro-violence) run counter to my, and many others’, vision of Canada as a multicultural and tolerant society. So I am not impressed that the CBC gives him the platform to express his views.

    And I also agree with you that Cherry does make some legitimate points and campaign for some worthy causes. His support of the STOP program (to eliminate hitting from behind in minor hockey), his calls for no-touch icing to elimnate injuries caused by races for the puck, and his support of various charities all are noteworthy and admirable. Those often get lost from sight because of the over-the-top and controversial manner in which he presents other points. They also (in the case of trying to prevent hockey injuries) make him a contradictory character because one the one hand he advocates for measures to improve player safety and on the other he promotes a violent and damaging style of playing.

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