I think pretty much everyone in the hockey world has an opinion of Cherry. And no matter how you view him — whether it be as a firebrand, a crusader for How the Game Should Be Played, a loudmouth, a kook, or even worse — there’s probably one thing pretty much everyone can agree on.
There may have been a time when Don Cherry spoke as the voice of the fans, albeit the particularly violent ones; a sort of Mouth of Sauron for hockey. He put out videos of guys getting clobbered and encouraged some behavior that was acceptable in the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s and even into the early aughts. But now the game has thoroughly passed him by.
That hasn’t stopped him from getting on Hockey Night in Canada every week and going on increasingly long rants about who-knows-what while poor Ron MacLean has to shirtfully (a word I made up just now) try to steer Cherry to whatever clips he’s trying to show to You Kids Out There while simultaneously preventing his brow from furrowing to levels previously thought impossible by science.
But a week ago Cherry called three former NHL tough guys (Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson) who made their living pounding opponents’ faces into pate onto the Coach’s Corner dance floor — erroneously, mind you — for some comments about how fighting should be taken out of the game that they, of course, never said.
(And lost in the idiocy of that aspect of what was a typical Grapes rant, was the fact that he was totally right in condemning the anti-fighting lobby for shamelessly using the deaths of Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard and Wade Belak to advance their cause.)
He called them pukes and hypocrites and turncoats. They, in turn, demanded apologies, which, frankly, was a little silly. There is no way on earth Don Cherry would ever say he was sorry for anything, nor should he have to. And he certainly shouldn’t have to do so under threat of legal action.
Don Cherry is, at this point in his career, very much an entity wholly unto himself, beyond the sport of hockey. He is a Canadian institution. That will stand to be true regardless of whether you or I agree with him these days. He is also 77 years old. But he’s the CBC’s version of Andy Rooney, a purveyor of DIDJA EVER NOTICEs and HERE’S SOMETHING I DON’T QUITE UNDERSTANDs that few if any actually identify with. He’s on TV because he’s always been on TV (Coach’s Corner has existed since the early 1980s). About 97 percent of what he has to say is complete nonsense that only serves to show how far out to sea his views are with what is considered to be acceptable in both hockey and society.
In short: He’s bulletproof, as evidenced by the CBC actively avoiding criticizing Cherry and his absurd statements even as it distanced itself from them. But he’s also Grampa Simpson yelling at a cloud and writing to the president to eliminate states, and every broadcast should accordingly end with, “P.S. I am not a crackpot.”
And therefore, at this point, anyone who claims to have been shocked and outraged by something Don Cherry said is the one that’s going to look foolish. That doesn’t excuse that he said it, but on what grounds could you possibly be as offended by having Cherry set his sights on you as Grimson, Nilan and Thomson claim to have been? Have they not seen an episode of Coach’s Corner in the last decade? Do they not know what he does?
But to take the little media tour that these guys have been on in the subsequent days — a Grantland interview here, a Landsberg appearance there, putting out press releases, etc. — is the stuff schoolchildren do.
They said they wanted an apology, knew they were never going to get one, and now Grimson’s telling anyone who will listen that an apology may no longer be good enough. It’s absurd.
Want a free tip on how to properly handle Don Cherry? Ignore him. Or at least take his comments, offensive to you though they may be, for what they are: the overwhelmed and confused doddering of a near-octogenarian in loud suits that somehow don’t drown out the inane comments.
Don Cherry’s comments should be taken with a grain of salt. Under no circumstances should they be taken to court.
P.S. Please don’t sue me, Stu Grimson.