Long-time sports broadcaster Ron MacLean was in Edmonton on Tuesday to receive an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Alberta.
MacLean’s visit to Edmonton comes in the midst of a nation-wide controversy: his Hockey Night in Canada co-host Don Cherry was fired by Sportsnet following comments where Cherry appeared to say newcomers to Canada don’t wear poppies.
MacLean faced criticism for not intervening as his on-air partner made the comments, but made an apology shortly after the incident, saying Cherry’s words were “hurtful and discriminatory.”
At the convocation event in Edmonton, which took place at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium on Tuesday afternoon, MacLean spoke extensively about the controversy.
“It’s a strange situation,” said MacLean.
“But I just kind of say, it’s a fork in the road. Don made a choice, I made a choice, and I hope that just because we diverged on the road at this point, the road can certainly converge — more to do with our friendship, to do with our relationship.”
MacLean said that he will be continuing with Sportsnet, and has been in contact with Cherry via email following his first appearance on the network without his co-host.
“I can’t back down from the difficulty,” said MacLean. “I felt very much the need to continue to represent the show.”
“If I have one regret, it’s when I apologized on the Sunday night I used Don’s name,” said MacLean. “That would hurt me. And that might have created some resolve in Don to not apologize.”
This isn’t the first time the University of Alberta has presented a degree to someone embedded in public controversy. Last year, the university presented a honorary doctor of science degree to David Suzuki.
Suzuki — a longtime environmentalist and oilsands critic — attracted a small group of protesters to the June 2018 ceremony, where he also gave a speech.
MacLean received his degree along with 753 undergraduate students and 959 graduate students.
“To be able to join them is an incredible honour,” MacLean said.
“They have a very high standard on their approach to education and the record in sports speaks for itself.”
MacLean, who started his broadcasting career in Red Deer in 1977, added that his wife Cari MacLean attended the U of A.
Two other people also received honorary degrees: retired senator and language rights advocate Claudette Tardif will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree, and Edmonton poet laureate Alice Major will receive an honorary doctor of letters degree.
All three recipients gave a keynote address to the graduates.