Opinion: The real problem with Don Cherry and his view on ‘you people’

Where do we even start with Don Cherry?

As the CBC hockey commentator utilized his national sports platform to spew his xenophobic comments this past weekend, do we laugh off his ignorance? 

Do we applaud his removal from the chair he had occupied on Coach’s Corner for nearly 40 years?

Do we continue trying to educate those, including Cherry, on what they should already know about the diversity of Canadians? 

Do we roll our eyes at another case of a white man of privilege looking down on those they deem below them?

There is no defence of what the 85-year-old Cherry said on the Canadian network — baselessly accusing immigrants, or “you people”, of not showing enough respect to Canadian traditions because he didn’t see enough of them wearing poppies in Toronto. 

The criticisms have rolled in from across the country and apologies have been made by his employers, including one from Ron MacLean, his host partner who sat idly by when the comments were made.

https://twitter.com/RonMacLeanHTH/status/1193673238355873792

Having watched more Coach’s Corner segments in my lifetime than I can remember, I’ve always had an appreciation for Cherry’s strong advocacy for the country’s military and veterans. His impassioned-yet-sometimes-incoherent rants about hockey also made from great television, while his decorative suits were a staple on Saturday night screens across Canada.

None of that matters though when discrimination is what he preaches — be it his veiled distaste for European hockey players or his misguided perception of immigrants in North America.  

And there is no trying to change Cherry’s antiquated mentality; he proved it by refusing to apologize after the fact. At least now he won’t have the same platform, after he “stepped down” on Monday.

This isn’t just about poppy wearing; if that was the case, Cherry should have mentioned the many white Canadians who don’t wear poppies as well. The issue is his lack of understanding for the suffering and sacrifice that comes in different forms — and not just the important one that we focus on during Remembrance Day.

Many immigrants have similar stories, some much more impactful than others. And many are who they are, where they are, and have the opportunities they have today because of sacrifices by those before them. 

My grandfather risked his life and put aside a soccer career to go fight in World War 2 — paving the way for my family to eventually move to Canada when I was young. His sacrifices meant that I, too, had the privilege to grow up in a country that values freedom and democracy, and was fortunate to work as a sports reporter with a platform that also gave me a voice.

Many of us, “you people,” have benefitted from the result of these sacrifices by our ancestors — be it for Canada, or for the opportunity to come live in this country. Our place of birth or ethnicity does not define the level of love for the country we live in; and neither does one’s decision to wear a poppy or not. 

Canada is a nation that prides itself on its multicultural values, and believes that diversity is our strength

Yet, moments like Cherry’s rant and the need to denounce another public act of racism reminds us we still have a long way to go, and begs the real question — when does it end?

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