Longtime hockey commentator Don Cherry is out as co-host of Coach’s Corner following televised remarks in which he claimed new immigrants don’t wear poppies and implied they don’t support veterans.
“Following further discussions with Don Cherry after Saturday night’s broadcast, it has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down,” Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley said in a statement. “During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for.”
Cherry, 85, made the comments during his weekly Coach’s Corner segment on Hockey Night in Canada that sparked fierce condemnation from the public, politicians and the National Hockey League.
“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. “These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”
Cherry has not responded publicly since the comments were made.
He addressed his outing as the host of Coach’s Corner in an interview with the Toronto Sun on Monday.
“I have just learned I’ve been fired by Sportsnet for comments made on Coach’s Corner Nov. 9,” said Cherry. “No problem.”
The Sun went on to report that Cherry felt hurt after being fired on Remembrance Day “because I would have liked to continue doing Coach’s Corner.”
“The problem is if I have to watch everything I say, it isn’t Coach’s Corner.”
Cherry also said: “To keep my job, I cannot be turned into a tamed robot.”
Sportsnet and Coach’s Corner co-host Ron MacLean both apologized Sunday for Cherry’s remarks. Following Cherry’s rant, MacLean can be seen nodding and giving a thumbs-up.
“Don’s discriminatory comments are offensive and they do not represent our values and what we stand for as a network,” Yabsley said in a statement earlier Sunday. “We have spoken with Don about the severity of this issue and we sincerely apologize for these divisive remarks.”
MacLean said in a statement that Cherry’s remarks were “hurtful, discriminatory” and that he wished he had responded differently on-air.
“Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory, which were flat out wrong,” MacLean said. “I owe you an apology, too. I sat there, did not catch it, did not respond.
“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.”
Cherry’s comments were roundly criticized by politicians such Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, Toronto Mayor John Tory, Brampton MPP Gurratan Singh and Brampton regional Coun. Gurpreet Singh Dhillon as well as the National Hockey League.
Crombie called his comments “despicable.”
“We’re proud of diverse cultural heritage and we’ll always stand up for it,” she said on Twitter. “New immigrants enrich our country for the better. We’re all Canadians and wear our poppies proudly.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also weighed in on the controversy.
Online, there was both outrage calling for Cherry to be fired and those calling for him to be kept on-air under the hashtag #DonCherryIsRight, which was trending on Twitter on Monday.
Hockey Night in Canada was a longtime CBC Saturday night staple, but the show moved to Sportsnet when Rogers landed a 12-year, $5.2-billion national broadcast rights deal with the NHL that began in 2014.
The show is broadcast on CBC in a sub-licensing deal with Rogers Media, which owns Sportsnet. But the show is run by Sportsnet and filmed in its studio in the CBC building in Toronto.
In a statement on Twitter on Sunday afternoon, CBC’s head of public affairs, Chuck Thompson, wrote: “Don Cherry’s remarks on Saturday night were divisive, discriminatory and offensive, and we respect Sportsnet’s decision that this is the right time for Don to step down.”
— With files from the Canadian Press and Global News’ David Lao