Standing Up for What You Believe Sometimes Means Swallowing a Sour Cherry

By Jason Menard

As nauseating as Don Cherry’s “puke” comments were, all the calls to fire him for his statements are misguided. And for those who have tired of the flamboyant former coach’s bombast, the best way to deal with it is to put him on ice.

You don’t like what Cherry has to say, or how he chooses to say it, don’t tune in on Saturday nights. Turn off the TV during intermission, or change the channel altogether and, perhaps, find a game on TSN.

If enough people do this, then the tall foreheads at the CBC will get the point. Instead, thousands will play right into Cherry’s hands, tune in specifically to watch what he says, and everyone goes home happy – except the viewer.

I am not a Cherry fan. I think his views are outdated, I think he’s crossed that border into offensive far too often, and I think he abuses his position. But he’s allowed to do so.

With a huge pulpit, such as the one Coach’s Corner affords him, he has a responsibility to fact check and ensure his statements are based in truth – especially when they veer into the land of personal attacks. If he chooses not to do that, then the CBC and the show’s producers need to hold him accountable.

Unfortunately, ratings trump morals. As long as people tune into the show, the CBC has absolutely no motivation to police itself.

Let’s not forget that once we start firing people for what they’re saying, we put ourselves on a very slippery slope towards creating a culture of censorship. Part of free speech is allowing others, with whom we disagree, speak their mind.

But with that right of free speech comes the responsibility to use is wisely. That’s why there are slander and libel laws out there. And that’s why we all have access to a remote control.

The same people who are clamouring for Cherry’s removal are probably the same ones who strongly oppose censorship in other areas. From V-chips to freedom of press, you can’t take the good without supporting the bad.

Personally, I don’t get the Cherry phenomenon, but I appear to be in the minority. The Cult of Don is strong, with people turning the former coach into an icon of Canadiana. He doesn’t represent the Canadians I know, but obviously enough people find an affinity with him that it would be folly for me to completely write him off as un-Canadian.

Cherry is not what I want to see on my CBC, but I also want my CBC to be free to hire people with diverse viewpoints. I want them to stand up for the rights of everyone to share their opinion, regardless of whether it’s one I believe in. And that’s why I refuse to jump on board and ask for Cherry’s dismissal or sign any of the on-line protests that are circulating. While my tax dollars indirectly go to Cherry’s salary, I’d like to think that they’re directly going to fund a CBC and pays for an environment of open and honest debate.

Instead, I’ll do what every like-minded Canadian should do. I’m not going to tune into the CBC for its Hockey Night inCanadabroadcast. And I’m going to pass along a message to the CBC explaining why I’ve chosen to stop watching this show. If enough people do the same, chances are it will have some sort of impact.

After all, when TSN’s ratings go up in a direct proportion to CBC’s fall, then it won’t be an issue of censorship – it becomes nothing more than a business decision based on declining ratings and lost ad revenue. Simply put, until Cherry’s proven to be bad for business, he’ll retain his pulpit.

That doesn’t mean I have to watch. Nor do I have the right to force anyone else to stop watching. What I do have the right to do is make my own choices and my own decisions. I choose to not support this type of programming. And the CBC will then have its choice. If they lose a few traditional viewers, but gain a bunch of new casual ones, then they’ll have to weigh that trade-off. If they lose a lot of traditional viewers with no new ones coming aboard, then they’ll have to weigh the return on their Don Cherry investment at that time.

Just as I drive past crazy people ranting nonsensically on street corners or in bus stops, so too will I skip past Coach’s Corner. Just because someone’s speaking doesn’t mean I have to listen. We all have the right to choose and the right to speak our minds.

Those are rights that I’ll support fully – even if it means standing up for Don Cherry.

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8 thoughts on “Standing Up for What You Believe Sometimes Means Swallowing a Sour Cherry

  1. Butch McLarty

    Jay, I generally agree with your above column. Several excellent insights.

    Personally, I quit watching Cherry years ago. I enjoy conversations on TV not rants. Particularly Don Cherry’s rants. That’s why I quit watching Hockey Night in Canada altogether. I switched to baseball.

    But I disagree with you a bit in a few key areas.

    What makes the situation with Don Cherry and his irritating, outrageous nonsense different from a typical “free speech” issue is this:

    1. Don Cherry’s on CBC national television with several million viewers coast-to-coast, who are interested in watching our extremely popular, de facto national sport. The 800-K-a-year-plus-expenses Don Cherry is not ranting on a street-corner or bus stop about our beloved national sport;

    2. CBC is a publicly funded broadcaster;

    3. Television viewers are actively encouraged to express their pleasure or displeasure regarding content to broadcasters ~ radio, TV and Internet ~ even more so when the broadcaster is publicly funded. This too constitutes free expression;

    4. During Don Cherry’s latest brain cramp, he’s clearly entered the costly zone of the (Ontario) Libel and Slander Act by combining (reportedly) incorrect information with extreme personal attacks ~ on upstanding ex-hockey players who not only appear to care about the future direction of hockey, while also generating some of their current income from their respective hockey prestige and connections. Damages to reputation? Absolutely. Think “pukes,” “hypocrites” and “turncoats.” Plus the incorrect statements by Don Cherry about past positions of the three defamed.

    ********************************************************

    Don’s had his day. I adored the guy in the late 1970s and the 1980s. I’ve since matured somewhat. Don hasn’t. And yes I’ve written to the CBC. Twice. I pay taxes. I also care about the future direction of our national sport. I also want to become a fan again. Don Cherry’s in the way. Don’s, what, 77? Time for Don to retire.

    Reply
    1. Jay Menard Post author

      I agree with all your points. Perhaps I didn’t reference the slander issue strongly enough (I did on my Twitter feed, though). My preference is for a public broadcaster to create a culture where free speech is available and I wouldn’t want anyone fired for expressing an opinion. Instead, the pressure should come from people who don’t enjoy the product any more — just as ratings will kill other shows. People who are truly upset need to let CBC know they’re no longer watching HNIC — and why!

      As I said, with a huge pulpit (and you referenced the 800K+) comes a huge responsibility to fact-check and make sure all comments are backed by fact, not innuendo. That’s actually my big issue with so-called citizen journalism. Everyone can blog; but not everyone should. Too many don’t have a grounding in slander and libel laws and shouldn’t publish anything without a knowledge of these fundamental tenets of responsible writing.

      Reply
  2. Butch McLarty

    Jay, I’ve been involved with five Libel and Slander Act cases during the past 20 years. Won them all. Three against me, two as a plaintiff. I think I have an understanding of the issues to some degree better than most.

    Reply
    1. Jay Menard Post author

      Butch, I wasn’t referring to you about slander. I’m talking about the increase in commentary on blogs, , and Twitter from people who are trying to be edgy, without the foundation to back it up. They’re who give responsible citizen journalists a bad name in the overall media

      Reply
  3. Butch McLarty

    P.S. I’m a strong supporter of free speech-freedom of expression and against censorship generally.

    In the case of Don Cherry, however, he’s a well-paid, contract-employee of a publicly funded national broadcaster, a contract employee who’s clearly devolved into resorting to vicious, personal attacks on individuals who don’t have a similar forum to respond to his defamatory accusations and personal attacks ~ outside of the courts.

    To categorize this situation as a simple “free speech” issue is akin to condoning verbal bullying, with the CBC as the enabler.

    Unpopular points of view with a public interest angle should be welcome on the public airwaves, but when a publicly funded, national broadcaster abuses his or her position to defame others, a fundamental line of fairness and justice has been crossed.

    The remedy in this instance should be obvious to everyone, not just those individuals ridiculed and defamed.

    Reply
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