I am going to do my very best to not turn this into a screed against Don Cherry as I really don’t intend it to be one. Okay, I kind of do. But, still, bear with me. I have made it known in no uncertain terms that I am not a fan of Cherry. I think he’s a xenophobic, semi-racist, ignorant, militaristic, and possibly slightly senile old man who once served a purpose but is now just a beacon for ratings and money. And that’s kind of my point.
On Saturday, Cherry went on another one of his patented tirades that don’t make any sense claiming that there is no crime nor drugs in hockey because of the level of respect that is prevalent in the NHL. And because hockey players wear ties to the rink. Or something. I’m not going to get into the depths of how factually untrue this statement is as it ignores decades of hockey players with drug abuse problems (Derek Boogaard and John Kordick spring immediately to mind and the rest of the list is a long one), we’re used to Cherry saying ridiculous and false statements. At this point, the exercise of slamming Cherry or calling him ignorant or pick your adjective is an exercise in repetition. We know. The interesting point to come out of all this comes from our own Drew Fairservice who tweeted this on Saturday night:
Someone explain how Don Cherry is entertaining if we aren’t taking him seriously? I don’t think satire works like that.
— Drew FFF (@DrewGROF) February 24, 2013
If we’ve accepted the fact that Cherry is what he is and comments like these are becoming his norm, then his only purpose would be that of an entertainer. That’s fine, hockey could use a few more of those. But what happens when the entertainer stops entertaining? What happens when we get tired of the nonsense? What becomes Cherry’s purpose?
The cynical, and also correct, answer of ratings and money is beside the point. Cherry’s salary, estimated at $800,000 per year, is only justifiable due to the fact that, regardless of what is coming out of his mouth, the man generates eyeballs on the screen. A Globe and Mail report in 2011 puts Cherry’s ratings anywhere between 2.2 and 2.4 million viewers, though his ratings have slipped slightly during his broadcasts (the Globe report reported that his ratings peaked at 2.5 million viewers while falling to 1.5 by the end of his segment, though, small sample size). Still, from a Canadian TV perspective, a couple million viewers for 7 minutes of hockey talk is nothing short of ridiculous. Therefore, from the CBC’s perspective, this is exactly Cherry’s purpose, and the argument is a valid one.
But, from a hockey fan’s perspective, or from a viewers perspective, the snark is beginning to outweigh the product. This just isn’t entertaining anymore. Cherry has always been off-kilter and has always held the abrasive personality that he continues to put on, probably on purpose, that he displays each and every Saturday but, at a certain point, we reach the other side of the equilibrium. You can only spout nonsensical rhetoric for so long before the point is lost. Cherry has reached that point. As Drew correctly points out above, if no one is taking him seriously, the purpose has been lost. Cherry is rightfully an object of derision for many hockey fans (and an object of affection for many others, I don’t want to discount those who legitimately enjoy Cherry and his schtick, my esteemed editor being one of them) but we’ve reached the point where the derision has become pointless, the arguments have fallen on deaf ears, and the issue has been exhausted.
Nothing that Cherry said on Saturday was any more offensive than his standard script that has become expected to be inflammatory each week but, without the expectation of something resembling a point or a fact, it’s just become a real life Colbert Report with humor replaced by sadness. Don Cherry has never been one to hold integrity nor respect of a certain segment of hockey fans but the fact that he has just become a punch line has rendered him useless. You can’t be inflammatory if nobody is listening and you can’t be interesting if nobody cares. Cherry’s made his point, we’re just tired of hearing it. With an utter lack of anything resembling purpose or relevance, Cherry has divulged himself of any and all responsibility to be correct, either factually or politically. If we don’t take him seriously, he can say what he wants as no matter what spills out of his mouth, it will only be met by mockery or derision. Cherry has the right as a commentator to say what he wants but a commentator held to no standards has no standards to live up to and, therefore, can turn saying what he wants into nonsense.
While Cherry may have lost his allure as anything other than fodder for arguments, he’s not going anywhere soon, his ratings and his stature will guarantee that so, while we can complain, insult, and argue, our words will not lead to action. The CBC had their chance when Cherry’s contract was up and chose to continue milking their cash cow. Which I totally get but wish they hadn’t. Cherry has been reduced to a highly-rated filler of airtime, which is a shame for what is supposed to be the number one hockey showcase in a hockey-crazed country. Coach’s Corner could be so much more but instead we’ll have to settle for exasperated faces from Ron MacLean for anything hinting at realism during the first intermission.