Monday, March 02, 2009

The great Grapes squashing; chickens come home to roost

It seems like there was a coordinated offensive against Don Cherry today in the wake of his "soccer goofs" comment which Duane diced up on Saturday.

Bruce Arthur in the National Post said the legendary hockey commentator has gone from "from straight-talkin' sensation to walking caricature." There is an editorial today in the Vancouver Province ("Cherry totally out of touch") and sassback from a good Carbonear, N.L., boy Dan Cleary from the Detroit Red Wings team which purportedly no one wants to watch because it has too many Europeans, but which is also the biggest road draw in the NHL: "He's getting up there. Who won it all last year? Perhaps he's forgotten." Arthur, though, takes the cake:
"Cherry has done a lot of good for hockey, and for charity, and for the CBC's bottom line. But popularity aside, Don Cherry has almost become the George W. Bush of hockey: Ignorant, ideological, dismissive of the facts, governed by his gut. The crotchety grandfather act can still be fun, but overall, the CBC looks worse every year for his presence."
Please set aside that Dubya comparisons are a no-no (too easy, too obvious, too painful a reminder) and ignore that those links are all from papers in the same chain. It is worth asking how long Cherry has left on his CBC Sports contract. People have taken up rhetorical pitchforks against Cherry before and so long as people have trouble separating their own leanings from what's real, it will be hard to tell if this amount to much, especially since CBC Sports digs in every time.

Cherry actually reached the point of caricature at least five years ago. It seems like the media might feel more emboldened this time around. Who knows, perhaps the Feb. 3 Macleans article by Charlie Gillis which detailed how Cherry used Mike Sanderson, the father of the late Don Sanderson, to advance his agenda has had more impact than it did when it appeared one month ago today.
" 'Other people won’t understand this,' Don Cherry told his coast-to-coast audience after attending Donald Sanderson's memorial service in Port Perry, Ont. 'But Mike is a hockey guy.'

" ... So if you’ve been gathering your information on this slow-moving controversy from Coach’s Corner, it may surprise you to learn that Michael Sanderson would in fact love to see fighting eliminated from the game. You may be shocked to hear he supports measures that would suffocate the practice. Automatic ejections? 'Helluva rule.' Requiring players to keep their helmets and visors on during fights? 'Great. If they know they’re going to be punching plastic with their bare hands, they’ll eventually stop.'

"... Oh, and one more thing: he’s no friend of Don Cherry, with whom he says he has 'issues.' 'He said we sat there like we were buddies [at Donald's funeral],' Sanderson says tightly. 'I'm, like, no we didn’t.' "
It is understandable that some people might say Cherry is being scapegoated at a time when it's an in-thing to seem progressive and sensitive, but that's just obfuscation writ large. This all comes back a core principle of the late, great Fire Joe Morgan: Someone who paid to offer informed commentary on a sporting event is professionally obligated to keep up with what's current in terms of analyzing the sport.

Cherry has not done that in quite some time. During the Stanley Cup final last spring, he insisted Gary Roberts was the most important player in the series when he was getting third-line minutes. He was nowhere to be found after the decisive game when he should have been eating crow and congratulating Nicklas Lidstrom for becoming the first European to captain a Cup winner.

Throw in the fact that it's a big small-l liberal love-in during the first days of the Obama presidency, and it's bad news for Cherry. There is probably no literal connection between the two, but not so long ago you wouldn't have heard Canadian sportswriters rising to the defence of soccer players, like Arthur did on Monday:
"But it was the way Cherry presented his case that left the usual sour taste. Besides the usual anti-European bile ... Cherry showed a montage of soccer players celebrating, and as it showed a group of four enthusiastic black players dancing close to the camera, Cherry said, 'Now watch this, look at this - this is what we want our hockey players to act like?'

"The charge of racism has been thrown at Cherry over his treatment of Europeans and Francophone Canadians, but because those aren't traditionally identifiable minorities, the charges don't seem to stick. But intentionally or not, this looked for all the world like a more familiar brand of racism." -- Arthur
Some might argue that is a little strong, but the gloves are off with CBC Sports for having allowed it to reach this point, Ron-and-Don are bigger than the franchise. Rank-and-file fans in Marmora might not care, but it's held Hockey Night in Canada back (and it's an affront to the legacy of Ralph Mellanby, who always wanted a show that was cutting-edge).

Cherry, in his heyday, brought some levity and a sense of fun to Hockey Night in Canada, but it has long reached the point where it's consumed the man entirely. Things have kind of caught up him in the last little while. Of course, assuming anything is about to change presumes the CBC has its finger on the pulse of the country, and that's a bigger leap of logic than claiming Red Wings attendance has more to do with how many Swedes they have than the Michigan economy.


kinger said...

If you get rid of Don Cherry, who replaces him? They're not exactly stocked with people who could maintain that kind of attention for a first intermission show.

As it stands, there are people who will tune in just for Coach's Corner. That won't happen if Kelly Hrudey is doing the segment.

Cherry's prominence is like the talk radio business in the states. Sure, Al Franken might be less offensive than Rush Limbaugh, but the fact Rush has millions more listeners show that the people have spoken. Why can/should the media be able to run Cherry off TV when there's been zero backlash among the people who actually watch the show?

Also, it'd be only fair to mention the "racist!" outrage that followed his assertion that French and European players were the majority of visor-wearers, outrage which was quickly refuted by that classical enemy of the PC left - facts. It hasn't just been a litany of stupidity from the guy.

Greg said...

Tyler, couple of points here:

You may be right about the audience that tunes in to see Cherry shout his big mouth off during Coach's Corner. If we want to talk pure dollars here, Cherry costs the CBC (read: Canadian taxpayers) more than $600,000 a year. That's obscene for a network that is the most politically correct network in Canada.

The CBC is supposed to be at, quite frankly, a much higher standard than TSN when it comes to quality of analysis and voices on air. If it's all about money, which it seems to be, maybe the CBC should come out and say "we keep him here because investing that kind of cash into him translates into millions in advertising."

I think Cherry's an idiot and loathsome in what he represents when it comes to hockey: the xenophobic, us-against-them attitude that's infected Canadian hockey like a virus, the values he's instilling to kids that it's okay to hurt people on the ice, et al.

But, I have to agree with you. It doesn't seem like his core audience is complaining, and as long as the CBC is ratings-driven in its mandate, what choice does the network have?

Amrit Ahluwalia said...

I've had about enough of hearing about Don Cherry's alleged 'racist remarks'.

The group of players were, yes, African, but they were dancing about like idiots. Having played both soccer and hockey in something of an enforcer's role, soccer at a much higher level than hockey mind, but none the less, I know that watching another team dance about like that after a goal is infuriating.

I could lie and say that it doesn't bother me when the opposing team celebrates a goal so flamboyantly, but it does. It's extremely irritating, and I've certainly singled out excessive celebrators in my time with a misplaced elbow or a slightly higher tackle.

The point he was trying to make is that flamboyant celebrations cheapen the goal and make the other team want a piece of you. And you'd be a liar if you tell me you can't see the logic in that.

To draw the conclusion that Don Cherry is racist because he said "This is what we want our hockey players to act like?" when black people happened to be on the screen is absurd. The lesson he was teaching was one in humility, and I've played against a lot of people who'd do well to take something out of that lesson because Don's absolutely right: if they don't learn it themselves, someone is going to go out of their way to be a teacher.

Racism? Not bloody likely.

sager said...

Tyler, your entire comment is based on a false premise, since nowhere do I argue for Cherry's ouster.

The point was the media seems more emboldened now to point out that Cherry's shtick has become stale. Like I said, don't expect the CBC to make changes any time soon, but it's good people are talking.

This is a chattering-class issue ("Rank-and-file fans in Marmora might not care"), so the "silent majority" argument is hacky and irrelevant. Your imagined viewer who actually watches the show (which Duane might have had to do to get the original quote on Saturday, or which Bruce Arthur presumably had to do) hasn't said anything. So what? HNIC aims to do better. Besides, since when is whatever's popular always best? Hey, everybody, put down that Philip Roth novel, pick up Stephanie Meyer, it's just flying off the shelves at Wal-Mart!

Also, it's amusing you make a valid point about Rush Limbaugh, but then say in the next graf that facts are the enemy of the "PC left."

Limbaugh was the one who didn't know the difference between the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Apparently Rush must be a sandal-wearing leftie now.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

@Neate: You're right that popular isn't always good. That doesn't mean that "Cherry's shtick has become stale", though: there are plenty of people who still enjoy watching the guy and hearing his opinions. Of course, that means that the CBC will probably dump him, as their programming department seems to emphasize repetition of the perspectives that they think are valid at the expense of popularity. Why narrow the debate to only include viewpoints that are politically correct?

On Cherry himself: I disagree with much of what he says, but I think it's great that the CBC has him as a high-profile analyst. For one, he's a refreshing change from the crowd of analysts who don't dare to say anything that might offend someone, and for another, he represents a perspective held by a considerable amount of Canadians that isn't really represented in anything else the CBC shows. Like I said above, I don't necessarily like Cherry or agree with what he says (espsecially in this case). He does make for interesting television, though, and I think he brings some unique insight you're not going to get elsewhere.

[Damn, I seem to be agreeing with Tyler. Didn't know that could happen without the universe imploding.]

Greg said...


The thing is that Cherry is only there now, in 2009, because of the Train Wreck Factor: he says things so incredibly ignorant and offensive sometimes that it's impossible to turn away. I think it's actually a small minority of people who listen to what he says and take it as "commentary."

This all has absolutely nothing to do with what Cherry says on-air. There's a lot of people at the CBC who resent Cherry and his beliefs, but as with everything in media, this comes down to money, pure and simple. He brings in advertising dollars because he deliberately and willfully generates controversy.

Also, I have to take issue with this statement:

"Of course, that means that the CBC will probably dump him, as their programming department seems to emphasize repetition of the perspectives that they think are valid at the expense of popularity. Why narrow the debate to only include viewpoints that are politically correct?"

The CBC has never dumped him and never will because he makes money. Unless he said or did something illegal on air, he'll be in the cold, cold ground before the CBC dumps him.

Further to this, you really need to understand the dynamics of what goes on the CBC more. You know why the CBC produces "politically correct" programming? Because it's a Crown Corporation and has to abide by federal government rules regarding a large number of policies, including programming. Also, producing "popular" programming costs a lot of money, Andrew -- much more money than the CBC has, thanks to government cutbacks. It has nothing to do with political correctness -- there's no budget in place for Global-CTV-style programming. More pointedly, have you seen some of the shows on the CBC? The Border is about as close as it gets to politically incorrect on network drama in Canada now.

sager said...

@ Andrew: This is about relevance, not political correctness.

The sands have shifted a bit and whoever is Hockey Night in Canada's lead commentator has an obligation to take that into consideration. Cherry wants to stick to his guns about fighting and Europeans, fine, but it's a fair point that he's just expediting his own dinosaur-dom.

Time was, very few people in the media who would point this out. Now it has almost become a mainstream opinion. That was the point, no more, no less.

Whether there was a racial element to his, "Is that we want our hockey players to act like?" comment is open to debate, as Mr. Ahluwalia notes. However, the fact remains just seven days earlier, CBC's Hockey Day in Canada coverage, as Chris Zelkovich (who has always been strident about Cherry) noted, "filled a hole in the diversity fabric. There were more non-white faces than in the past, with particular attention paid to Canada's native population. Parts of the proceedings were broadcast in tongues such as Italian and Hindi."

Then Cherry turns around and says everyone should be like a white, English-Canadian hockey player.

That is inconsistent at best, hypocritical at worst. The fact is, you live in Canada, you have an obligation to try to develop some sympathy for different perspectives.

By the way, did everyone see this from Zelkovich on Monday:

Imagine, if you possibly can, a Fox announcer proclaiming that the Phillies won the World Series but they're boring because the team is full of Dominicans. Imagine how much longer he'd have his job.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Fair enough, Greg; I don't claim to be a CBC insider and I haven't watched a lot of their programming in quite a while, as most of it doesn't sound like anything that would interest me. Haven't seen The Border, so I can't comment on it. Obviously the CBC has regulatory challenges and such that private companies don't need to worry about. It just seems to me that they're frequently going for the real niche markets and ignoring large segments of the population that help to provide their funding, which to me is troubling. Then again, the whole idea of government-funded media outlets bothers me. Of course, maybe I'm just bitter because they canceled JPod.

On Cherry, you're right that part of it's the "Train Wreck Factor". I don't like the idea of just using controversy for ratings, and you're quite right that that seems to be most of what he's doing these days. However, I still think he has some valuable insights to offer, and I'm not sure that clamping down on him would help; that just makes him an oppressed martyr.

I agree with Neate that it's good to have a discussion around Cherry and his comments. What I'd like to see is that discussion take a more nuanced approach. For example, I'm more than happy to criticize Cherry for bashing Alexander Ovechkin or making ridiculous soccer comments, but those comments don't necessarily mean that everything he says is crazy. He often makes some very strong points on the value of defence, checking and teamwork, as well as individual plays. Not all Cherry's comments are valid, but that doesn't mean that he has no value.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

@Neate: I'm not sure that it's a good argument that "You live in Canada, you have an obligation to try to develop some sympathy for different perspectives." Sympathy for different perspectives is a great idea, but you lose the whole point if you try to force it on people. Moreover, in my mind at least, one of those different perspectives is the one offered by Cherry; do we lose that sympathy when we disagree with the perspective offered? Voltaire would take issue with that, and so would I.

I'm also not sure that I'd agree that it's hypocritical of the CBC to fill "a hole in the diversity fabric" and then give Cherry a platform; for one, not all of Cherry's comments are on race or ethnicity (and many of the ones that are are the ones I disagree most), but even if you presume that he'll be offering the opposite view (which I'm not even sure is fair; he's had plenty of positive words for the likes of Jordin Tootoo and Jonathan Cheechoo in the past), to me, that's presenting different perspectives.

sager said...

Everyone likes a good, nuanced discussion, but it might take more than saying Cherry "often makes some very strong points on the value of defence, checking and teamwork, as well as individual plays." That merely establishes that he's qualified to coach the Napanee peewees. There's even a hockey cliche for players who bang and crash in the corners -- jam.

Greg nails it; Cherry is a pine-boxer, one of those people who by virtue of his record and force of personality, won't leave until they're taking him out of there in a pine box. He is a great Canadian who deserves a chance to go out on his own terms, and make them good terms. There is popular opinion that his window to do that is closing rather quickly.

Why? It's as simple as what McLuhan said about the content being the audience. Cherry reminds us of the Canada we would rather not be so much anymore. He's an atavism, a ghetto hoser.

sager said...

@ Andrew: You've lost already if you have to go to Voltaire, since it means you'r conflating rights and priviledges. Cherry has the right to say whatever he wants, key difference being he's getting guaranteed air time every Saturday at around 7:45 and 9:45. That's not a right.

The challenge you might be struggling with here is trying to avoid jumping to conclusions. Saying that "you lose the whole point when you try to force it on people" is putting words in my mouth; I never said that.

I'll level with you; all I ever hope to do is try to be a good person, which is not the same as being a nice person. I have no designs on changing the world. The toughest thing to do is to change people's minds.

So, as for forcing things on people, please. A big theme of this country's history was forcing First Nations people to live in the most remote, isolated areas of the country, which no amount of praise lavished on Tootoo and Cheechoo is going to make up for.

Greg said...


You should check The Border out. It's actually pretty good. Not brilliant, but it's one of the better CBC shows I've seen.

Re: differing perspectives that Cherry brings. Sure, you're completely right about having differing opinions on HNIC about the culture of fighting and violence in hockey. There's bound to be a lot of debate about this topic for years yet. Fair enough.

But let me ask you guys this: if anyone else on Canadian sports television said anything akin to what Cherry says, would they still have a job? I'm willing to bet no.

This speaks a lot to the fact Cherry isn't counted on for his opinions -- it's more about the cult of celebrity he enjoys and the controversy he cultivates. For this point alone, it begs the question: why is Cherry on air?

Same reason someone like Paris Hilton is -- you don't want to stare, but you just can't look away.

Anonymous said...

Just a couple of things...
If everyone is as fed up with Don as you seem to think, then why are so many people tuning in to hear what he has to say?
It would make sense to me that if I detested someones p.o.v. that much Id find something better to do with my Saturday night.
As for him being so wrong about the fans in hockeycountry not coming out because of all the Swedes.....You could blame the economy, but people still come out to watch the forever losing Lions, so there is a reason those people arent coming out to Wings games. It probably isnt because of too many Swedes but it may very well be, there is no real way of proving Don right or wrong, but he certainly isnt that off base.
And that Zelkovich character constantly complains about this nonsense, it seems to me he has some kindve strange Cherry obsession.

sager said...

Your Lions comparison does not hold up; they had almost half their home games blacked out this fall, for Pete's sake (see Red Wings Snapshots.

The Lions also have the benefit of a relatively new stadium and the NFL's popularity, which the Wings do not.

Also, if the attendance problems are because of the Swedes (or Russians), why didn't we hear about attendance problems in the 1990s and early 2000s? Because the Red Wings weren't having them. It started in 2006, when the auto industry nosedived.

Anonymous said...

the attendance in alot of nhl cities is bad, some due to the economy, some due to poor play, some due to the market that the team is in will not support hockey... i think attendance is effected by many things, cherry was over the top to say its because of too many swedes, but i think he might be on the right track in saying the fans arent happy with the brand of hockey the wings currently are playing....although the wings always had alot of euros starring, they also had alot of heart and soul types that from i understand the fans loved.
if cherry is wrong about this it really makes no difference to me, its his opinion, cbc pays him and people watch him to get his opinion...if you dont like/agree with it then you dont have to watch. personally id rather have don on every saturday speaking his mind, then have kelly hrudey come on and talk about the same thing that every other on air personality has already said.
p.s. sager keep up the good work, this is always a solid read!

kinger said...

I'll just jump back in to defend Rush Limbaugh. It was a slip of the tongue in what was otherwise a pretty entertaining speech. Unfortunately, that's what happens when you don't depend on teleprompters for everything (like a certain President).

sager said...

How would you know it was a slip of the tongue, and since when was the goal in politics to be entertaining?

kinger said...

Because everything in that speech (including the focus on the opening of the Declaration) had been parts of his show for weeks beforehand, and he'd gotten it right then. The next show after the speech he mentioned the mistake himself.

And Limbaugh is not a politician - he's an entertainer.

Also, if a slip of the tongue like that means that Rush "doesn't know" the difference between the two, then by that logic Obama doesn't know the difference between Iowa and Ottawa. People are always willing to forgive the leftists.

sager said...

Every time you think you've exhausted a topic, here comes Kinger.