US & Canada

Don Cherry: Canadian hockey pundit fired for poppy rant

Don Cherry Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Don Cherry is a retired professional player who now works as an ice hockey pundit

Prominent Canadian ice hockey commentator Don Cherry has been fired for controversial comments on new immigrants and Remembrance Day poppies.

Cherry complained on-air this weekend that he rarely sees people he believes to be newcomers wearing the symbol.

His remarks prompted widespread condemnation from the hockey world.

On Monday, the Sportsnet network said that in the wake of the remarks "it is the right time for him to immediately step down".

"During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for," Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley said in a statement.

Cherry is a former ice hockey player and coach who launched his career as a commentator for the game in the 1980s.

He has built his celebrity through his appearance on Coach's Corner, a segment of Hockey Night in Canada - a television staple in the country since 1952.

What did Cherry say?

Speaking on the Hockey Night in Canada show on Saturday, Cherry singled out Toronto immigrants for not wearing poppies.

"At least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy," he said.

"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.

"These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price."

The origins of the poppy as an emblem of remembrance lie with the opening lines of the World War One poem In Flanders Fields by Canadian officer John McCrae: "In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row."

Poppies are predominantly worn in the UK and Commonwealth nations such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. They are also used to a lesser extent in the US.

What was the reaction?

The words prompted a backlash online, including calls for the 85-year-old to resign from his lengthy television career.

On Sunday, the National Hockey League, television co-host Ron MacLean, Hockey Canada, and network Sportsnet issued statements censuring Cherry's remarks.

MacLean called the comments "hurtful and prejudiced" and apologised for failing to intervene.

He apologised to viewers for mishandling "a divisive moment" after he gave the remarks a thumbs-up.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan tweeted a thread highlighting Canadian veterans from minority groups, saying he hoped "we can turn this into a moment where we can learn about all who have served".

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, a national self-regulatory organisation, said on Monday it received so many complaints following the broadcast that it would no longer accept any more on the issue.

Who is Cherry?

Cherry has been on Canadian television screens for decades and is well known for his sports punditry, his flamboyant, custom-made suits and his blunt manner.

He has also long been a fierce supporter of Canada's military, military families and their causes.

But unapologetic remarks on issues from fighting in hockey and female sports reporters in dressing rooms to French-Canadians and "pinkos" that "ride bicycles and everything" have frequently landed him in hot water.

His sometimes outrageous comments have previously prompted viewer complaints.

In 2004, amid a debate around whether hockey players should wear visors to prevent injury, Cherry said the gear was only worn by "Europeans and French guys", widely seen as a slight.

A few years later, he cheered the election of late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford by telling opponents of the controversial politician: "Put that in your pipe, you left-wing kooks."

And in 2011, Cherry called a trio of former hockey enforcers - the sport's on-ice fighters - "turncoats" and "hypocrites" after they criticised aspects of violence in the sport.

Cherry offered a rare mea culpa for those remarks.

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