Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones But Words WILL [Never] Hurt Me

Discussing Don Cherry’s Controversial Statement

On November 16th, Ron McLean faced millions of hockey fans, announcing the end of an era. After thirty-four years of the popular halftime show, Coach’s Corner, MacLean announced that the segment had collapsed indefinitely, and co-host Don Cherry would no longer be featured. During the November 9th segment, Cherry made the following comment resulting in an immediate backlash,

“You people…you love your way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple of bucks for a poppy or something like that.”

In the wake following Cherry’s comments, thousands of Canadians took to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, responding to his controversial statement. Many individuals deemed his remarks unfair, some going as far to say his words were hateful and racist.

Whether it was intentional or unintentional, he clearly implied that there is a specific group of individuals who are refusing to wear poppies. While Cherry’s word choice is not ideal nor polite, it becomes offensive when he employs the word “our” and the Biblical reference of “milk and honey.” As Christians, many of us are well versed with this “milk and honey” lingo—the common terminology to describe the promised land, Canaan. In Cherry’s statement, he is using it to refer to Canada (somewhat accurately, considering that we live in one of the most respected and idolized countries in the world). However, in telling “You people” that they love “our milk and honey,” Cherry creates a divide. It separates those who are native to the land of milk and honey and those who are not—immigrants.

While Cherry may have been right to chastise those who choose not to wear poppies, he is not justified in blaming and isolating a particular group of people. How could he possibly have known they were immigrants? What does an immigrant look like? 

When one student was asked about Cherry’s remarks, he responded, “I didn’t even wear a poppy this year so according to him I’m part of the problem. However, just because I didn’t wear a poppy doesn’t mean I don’t care.” 

Interestingly enough, this student is not an immigrant, nor are his parents, proving that Cherry was incorrect to exclusively accuse those who are non-native to Canada. Just because someone does not wear a poppy, does not necessarily mean that they do not honour and respect Canadian troops. 

Along with the many Canadians who believe Cherry’s comments to be unacceptable are his employers, Sportsnet.  Only two days after the incident, Sportsnet issued the following statement: 

 “Sports brings people together—it unites us, not divides us. Following further discussions with Don Cherry after Saturday night’s broadcast, it has been decided 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. Don is synonymous with hockey and has played an integral role in growing the game over the past 40 years. We would like to thank Don for his contributions to hockey and sports broadcasting in Canada.”

Those in support of Cherry feel that his removal from Coach’s Corner was harsh and unjust. For over three decades, Cherry has been the face of Hockey Night in Canada and has helped promote and celebrate the sport. He has publicly supported numerous charity groups and social justice movements, so is one statement indicative of who he is and what he stands for? Recently, Budweiser released a campaign to sponsor women’s hockey which featured Cherry and MacLean, but they were removed from it following the November 9th incident. Again, this sparks the debate: does his comment undermine Cherry’s integrity and character? 

Redeemer student offers her insight,  “Although what Don Cherry said may have been offensive in this day and age, these are the kinds of comments he has made for years and had no backlash for the thirty-some seasons that he’s hosted Coach’s Corner. Even though it was a controversial statement, he should have received a proper send-off for the Canadian hockey icon that he had become over the past several years. It’s a shame they didn’t allow him to apologize and continue doing Coach’s Corner.”

Various individuals have highlighted that Cherry has always been outspoken, but that this is one of the characteristics that viewers find entertaining. It appears unfair to be suddenly punished after several years of opinionated outbursts. Having said this, MacLean voiced that “there were steps that needed to be taken after what he said, and he didn’t want to take those steps,” remaining true to who he is. 

So, where do we go from here? How do we respond? Personally, I believe that it all boils down to judgement. Whether or not he meant to, Cherry voiced his opinion and made a judgement—angering and hurting many Canadians. Two wrongs never make a right and this is no exception. While we cannot ignore what was said, demonizing Cherry is also not the answer. It’s important that we recognize the power that words hold. Our old adage, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” is outdated and flawed. Yes, we have freedom of speech, but this does not include words of hurt, oppression and discrimination against our fellow countrymen!