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article imageOp-Ed: Don Cherry — A lightning rod for controversy

By Jackson Alexander     Apr 28, 2013 in Sports
His critics are quick to bemoan it, but let's at least acknowledge the fact that Don Cherry is a living Canadian legend.
He started doing colour commentary for the CBC in 1981 and is the main reason why Coach’s Corner enjoys the remarkable success it’s had over the last three decades. Multiple generations of Canadians have been brought up listening to him spew his hockey rhetoric. He was voted the seventh greatest Canadian in CBC's aptly named television special The Greatest Canadian. You'd be hard pressed to find someone as knowledgeable as Don Cherry is about hockey. But that’s where the puck stops; as soon as he starts talking about anything else the results that follow are less than ideal.
What obviously precipitated this article was yesterday’s rant on women in the dressing room. A rant that would’ve been relatively tame for Don until he uttered the phrase, I don’t feel women are equal. I feel they’re above us. And I think they’re on a pedestal. To some this phrase may not seem sexist but sexism is simply differential treatment of different genders. Positive regard for women without equivalent positive regard for men is still sexism, and vice versa. The same thing goes for stereotypes; they’re still examples of racism regardless of whether they’re positive or negative.
There’s extensive documentation of Don’s other prejudiced rants. European hockey players used to be a favourite topic of his. During one of his more politically charged speeches about visors Don is quoted to have said, most of the guys who wear them are Europeans and French guys. And you cannot have half the league wear them and half not. Don’s issues with visors stemmed from his notion that visors wouldn’t increase player safety because, usually the guys who are cutting guys are the ones who wear visors … because they do that they don’t show the same respect [as those who do not]. While these statements by themselves were not prejudiced (a statistical analysis of the league confirmed what Don said about European and French players’ heavier use of visors), his implication that it was specifically French and European hockey players that wore visors and thus had less respect for player safety was. The issue obviously caught the media’s attention and became an issue of contention.
The incident highlighted above is far from Don’s only foray into political incorrectness. But it does represent Don’s main flaw. Superficially one would point to his obvious racism and prejudice as being his imperfections. Instead I would point to the factors that have made him this way: the generation he was brought up by, the area he was brought up in, and finally, his rudimentary education. I’m not trying to justify what Don says, the fact of the matter is that he’s simply wrong in many of his non-hockey related assertions. I’m simply trying increase public understanding as to where the prejudice comes from.
Don Cherry is an old man, he turned 79 this year. He grew up and experienced the entirety of the Cold War, from the start to finish. He was brought by a society that was intrinsically different from the one we enjoy today, a society where his utterances and attitude were acceptable, if not encouraged. Sexism and gender inequality were rampant. Women gained the unabridged right to vote in Quebec during his childhood. While we find that our current social environment is different from our parents and their generation, Don was brought up by a social environment that preluded even the one experienced by our parents and twice removed from the one we enjoy today.
Don Cherry is also not overly educated; he dropped out of high school to play hockey and never looked back (something that I, as a university graduate, wish I could have done). On top of that he’s from Kingston, Ontario. Not that I have anything against Kingston (empirically) but I’ve lived in Toronto my entire life and the only time I’ve ever heard the term ‘chink’ used in casual conversation was during the one day I spent in Kingston. Admittedly, this is the definition of anecdotal evidence but it underscores my main point: Don Cherry was brought up in a different social climate, not only temporally but also in terms of the community he lived in.
You’d be hard pressed to find a high school dropout who was alive before World War II getting the kind of attention Don Cherry gets in any other media industry. The news, television, talk shows, etc., are all dominated by younger, sexier faces. Faces that were brought up by a society not markedly different from the one we enjoy today. Faces voicing opinions that were subtlety moulded by the status quo of our current society. Don’s opinions were also moulded in a similar fashion but by a radically different status quo that resulted from a fundamentally different society. A status quo that today would disgust us and yet played an integral role in the way an entire generation of people lived, learned, and grew as people.
Honestly, I think Don knows that some of his views are behind the times and is trying to change that. In an attempt to avoid being derogatory towards women he went too far the other way in singing their praises. The media is a cruel teacher and whenever he makes a mistake they make sure he knows. Over the last few years the frequency of these mistakes has decreased and the occurrence of racially charged quotes is non-existent when topics are kept strictly kept to hockey and the memorials he holds for various deceased servicemen. Problems arise when he addresses issues surrounding hockey, like we saw during his analysis of the visor issue (illustrated above) and his take on women in dressing rooms from the other night. Calling him a ‘dinosaur’ is an easy way for the media to oversimplify the man behind the controversial remarks. Don Cherry is prejudiced but he is a product of his environment, a vestige of a society long forgotten. Stick to talking about hockey Don, and the world will listen.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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