Months after former hockey broadcaster Don Cherry was embroiled in controversy over questionable comments, the Western Hockey League (WHL) has removed his name from a series of organ donation fundraising games.
The third annual “Suits Up” season is set to get underway next week in Edmonton, but this year it’s flying under a different banner: instead of the previously-advertised “Suits Up with Don Cherry to Promote Organ Donation,” it’s now “Suits Up to Promote Organ Donation,” according to a post on the Edmonton Oil Kings’ website.
Cherry, former co-host of the Coach’s Corner segment of Hockey Night in Canada, was fired by Sportsnet in November after comments he made during one of his weekly segments, suggesting immigrants weren’t wearing poppies ahead of Remembrance Day.
“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 at the time.
“These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”
The “Suits Up” fundraiser supports the Kidney Foundation of Canada and includes 17 games played across Canada between January and March. Players on teams involved wear specially-made jerseys, which are then auctioned off.
In previous years, the players wore Don Cherry-inspired jerseys, but this year those will be different too — they’ll instead be Hockey Night in Canada-themed and each team will design their own.
“This year’s jerseys are inspired by the powder blue blazer and retro logo worn by Hockey Night in Canada broadcasters for nearly fifty years beginning in 1952,” the Edmonton Oil Kings said on its website.
While nothing with the new title was posted on the WHL’s website as of Friday, the name change is official, according to WHL Commissioner Ron Robison.
However, Robison said the change doesn’t signal a parting of ways with the now-disgraced broadcaster.
“We didn’t part ways with Don Cherry at all,” he told Global News on Friday afternoon.
“Don was never part of the central theme of this year’s promotion. We wanted to focus first and foremost on the charity, and that’s the Kidney Foundation.”
‘Best approach for this year’
Robison said the decision was league-wide.
“We were in discussion with our partners in November and felt that this would be the best particular direction to go and we consulted with our clubs at the same time,” he said.
“It was a result of discussions first and foremost with the Kidney Foundation, our partners, our sponsor Remax and other stakeholders, along with the Cherry family, and we all agree that this would be the best approach for this year.”
When asked whether there were concerns around the poppy controversy overshadowing organ donation, the Kidney Foundation and the efforts to raise awareness and funds, Robison said no, adding, “I think we were moving in that direction regardless.”
“It was really to support and focus on the charity,” Robison said.
“As well, the promotion includes Hockey Night in Canada-themed jerseys, as opposed to Don Cherry-themed jerseys this year, so we just felt it was more appropriate to focus on a broader promotional program including particularly focusing on the Kidney Foundation itself.”
Oil Kings director of business operations Daniel Troiani echoed Robison’s comments, saying the event was never meant to be Cherry-focused.
“We, as a league, have decided to move ahead with the event because of the charitable component,” Troiani said Friday.
“Despite all the political stuff, we do appreciate that Don is a huge proponent of organ donation, continues to be.”
Don Cherry bobbleheads still given out
The commemorative bobblehead dolls, which fans have a chance to win with scratch-n-win tickets they get when they’re leaving, will still feature Cherry, the WHL said, as well as Ron MacLean.
Robison said the WHL is confident that giving out Cherry bobbleheads won’t re-ignite the controversy.
“We don’t think so, we feel very strongly that Hockey Night in Canada has been an iconic brand in this country for many years and it will be received well,” he said.
Robison said the WHL is planning to make a more formal announcement next week, which will expand on the new theme around the Kidney Foundation.
According to Troiani, that announcement will have a focus on organ donation and Green Shirt Day, a donation awareness campaign started in memory of Logan Boulet, one of the victims of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, whose family donated all of his organs when he died.
“Logan Boulet will have a small component as part of this year’s event,” Troiani said.
“So you will see that incorporation to some degree this year. We’ll let the league announce that next week and we’ll follow suit on Tuesday when we showcase our jerseys.”