My parents watched hockey, faithfully. From the basement, I could keep score by the groans/stomping/squealing/screaming upstairs. My grandmother thought Cherry was an ass. I didn’t pay much attention.
I did, however, realize that it was an important part of my family’s tradition, so to speak. So, on that day in 1989 when it was game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs and I was babysitting, I turned the game on. Somewhat ruefully, I’ll admit, but I knew it was a big day for my family.
After the final buzzer went and the Calgary Flames were Stanley Cup champions, I called my parents. They were crying with absolute joy. And I still remember that day… probably for another reason that I do not have any interest, as a passive Flames fan, in analyzing, but I digress… hockey reminds me of my family.
For many Canadians, Don Cherry was to Canada what Don Cherry is to hockey and our reputation precedes us on what hockey means to Canada. I remember once, when there were no Canadian teams left in the Stanley Cup playoffs, I just went through their rosters and picked the ones with the most Canadians. Then I had to narrow it down to the ones with the most Albertans – because there are a lot of Canadians all over the U.S. playing for the NHL. Canadians truly believe this is our sport.
The point is that hockey, our teams, and the fact that we have so many Canadians playing, is a source of immense pride for many Canadians; even me, in my passive, but incredibly passionate when I’m watching, fandom.
Thankfully, it’s also a source of pride for sports-related companies. Thanks to corporate behemoths like Nike, who proved that you can stand up for what’s right and not hurt your bottom line, there is precedent for drawing a line.
Sport hasn’t always been a welcoming and inclusive environment. Until people realized that the best players win, not necessarily the best within the restrictive prerequisite of “but what colour is their skin?”, sport wasn’t the best demonstration of athleticism that it could be.
Baseball, even though there was an American Negro National League since 1920, didn’t start drafting players who weren’t white until 1947. The NBA was the same. Hockey was later still; 1958.
While hockey hasn’t had the influx of diversity in appearance that other sports have enjoyed, in Canada it’s a national past-time. Even for people who have never played the sport (like me), they probably grew up with it on the T.V. or radio. And it probably didn’t matter what their ethnic background was, because they were in Canada (but having a hometown hockey team that wasn’t cursed would help; *cough* Leafs *cough*).
Don Cherry has been part of that for over 30 years, legitimately as long as I can remember… but it’s time to hang up that suit and let someone else pick up the microphone. Because if you have to “watch what you say” so you don’t insult people who don’t look like you, you aren’t the best that Canada has to offer.
P.S. I have a signed and framed Don Cherry photo for sale.
This post is an opinion.
Deirdre is a reporter, pundit, podcaster, and full-wit political observer, raising four independent thinkers in rural Southern Alberta.
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