It’s time for Brian Burke to replace Don Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada

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Don Cherry’s offensive comments during Saturday’s Coach’s Corner segment should be the final straw. It’s time to move on.

Don Cherry|Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Probably the first thing I have to acknowledge is that I haven’t watched a live segment of Coach’s Corner in years. As someone who can often have polarizing opinions, I recommend to my critics that if they don’t like what I have to say, there are plenty of other people to read out there. So I figure I should walk the walk. I also thought that if enough of us ignored Don Cherry long enough and didn’t legitimize him, perhaps he would just go away.

Maybe that will happen now. And if it doesn’t, it should. The fact is that Cherry should not have even had the pulpit he had Saturday for his anti-immigrant rant because if xenophobia/racist comments were grounds for dismissal at either Canada’s national broadcaster or Rogers, Cherry would have been gone a long time ago. So will Rogers finally realize it has had enough of enduring the embarrassing things that come out of Cherry’s mouth? Will there be a Coach’s Corner segment when HNIC hits the airwaves next Saturday? Someone with Cherry’s clout and ability to draw eyeballs has never been threatened before, but sentiments among Rogers staffers is that there will be a lot of talk about moving on from Cherry this week.

Like almost everything when it comes to hockey and TV in Canada, there’s a good chance this will come down to what a powerful brewery thinks of all this. You see, Budweiser Canada is the title sponsor of Coach’s Corner and aligning your company with this kind of thing is not a good look. (I reached out to the company Sunday and will continue to do so today. We’ll see where it goes.) Part of the problem is that those who seem to feel a need to carry Cherry’s water seem afraid to take him on. Rogers and the NHL could not have issued more tepid responses to the incident and, for reasons I still can’t figure out, neither could Hockey Canada. Ron MacLean, Cherry’s longtime enabler and apologist, couldn’t even muster a counterpoint to Cherry on Saturday night, instead nodding his head and giving a thumbs-up after Cherry spoke. It’s time someone stood up to the bully and sent him home.

And the best thing about all this is that Rogers, who let go two quality men in Nick Kypreos and John Shannon to keep Cherry, has the perfect replacement for Cherry right in its studio in Brian Burke. This was probably going to happen anyway, but Cherry’s latest indiscretion gives Rogers a ready-made excuse to part ways with Cherry and hand the keys to the first intermission kingdom to Burke. Preferably by this Saturday. Unlike Cherry, Burke has won a Stanley Cup. Like Cherry, Burke can be blustery and will appeal to the pro-fighting crowd that treats Cherry as though he should be considered for sainthood. But the thing about Burke is that he knows how to be controversial, bombastic and thought-provoking without crossing the lines of decency. He’s only recently removed from his career as a GM so he knows the league and its inner workings and he has a wealth of knowledge and insight. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to learn nuggets about the NHL of actual value than constantly hearing someone tell kids to cover the points?

MacLean’s apology on Hometown Hockey Sunday night was a decent start. But it’s not enough. Not near enough. The network’s apology from president Bart Yabsley said Cherry’s comments, “do not represent our values and what we stand for as a network.” Well, if Rogers allows this to pass with nothing more than a slap to Cherry’s hand, you have to wonder exactly what Rogers stands for as a network. The NHL, which issued a 25-word statement, said the comments, “were offensive and contrary to the values we believe in.” This is a league that insists Hockey Is For Everyone and, it should be noted, is Rogers’ broadcast partner and ultimately has a significant say in who appears on the broadcasts.

In 1988, two years after Cherry began his run on Coach’s Corner, Jimmy the Greek had some vile things to say about African Americans that got him fired from CBS Sports. That was more than 30 years ago. What Cherry said has never had a place in the public discourse, but in 2019 it’s inexcusable. Not including his one season when he ran the Mississauga IceDogs of the Ontario League into the ground, it has been almost 40 years since Cherry stood behind a bench. His run on Coach’s Corner after a stint of being an “average coach” (Harry Sinden’s words, not mine) was longer than anyone could have imagined, but it’s clearly time to put an end to it.

Right now.

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