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Opinion: Spineless Sportsnet is just as guilty in Don Cherry controversy

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Don Cherry was let go from his role on Hockey Night in Canada on Monday. (via Sportsnet/Screengrab)

Sportsnet announced the firing of Don Cherry on Monday; a shocking move, only if you somehow forgot how their initial rollout of "Hockey Night in Canada" went. 

After reaching an unprecedented $5.2-billion, 12-year deal with the NHL in 2013 that gave parent company Rogers the exclusive national broadcasting rights across the country, the network announced some changes to Saturday night programming. 

"We want to get a little bit younger, we want to catch that demo that is not necessarily coming to the television at all — that are either playing video games or not going out and participating in the games — we want to get a new breed of Canadian fans that get passionate about the games," said then-Sportsnet president Scott Moore about the network rebrand that included hiring George Stroumboulopoulos to host the hallowed "Hockey Night in Canada" broadcast.

Two years later, they bailed on that idea, citing the negative response from “hardcore hockey fans.”

Sportsnet hadn't taken any chances with their broadcasts since, even as that 12-year-deal became a noose around the company's neck

This summer, they announced more layoffs of on-air talent, including Nick Kypreos, Doug MacLean and radio host Bob McCown. Few tears were shed by that important demographic of "hardcore hockey fans."

But despite some speculating that Cherry might be one of those summer casualties, he remained, his hefty contract worth the potential backlash they might receive if they didn't re-up the "Coach's Corner" host.

Now, with this weekend's events, Sportsnet managed to anger both "a new breed of Canadian fans" and the "hardcore hockey fans," all because they're only motivated by a backlash. 

“Don’s discriminatory comments are offensive and they do not represent our values and what we stand for as a network,” said Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley in a statement. “We have spoken with Don about the severity of this issue and we sincerely apologize for these divisive remarks.”

But what exactly do they stand for as a network? Because up until now, they were fine with continually allowing an 85-year-old nationalist a weekly prime time spot to espouse his views. 

Cherry never even hid that he was a nationalist. It was the basis of his analysis. European players were soft. Americans were jerks. The best in the sport was always "those good Canadian boys." He's been like that for four decades.

To be surprised by this weekend's comments is to be surprised when a dog takes a dump inside: it's in their nature and the odds only increase as they get older.

Even the most ardent Cherry supporters would admit he'd been slipping the past decade. Each year he came back, player names became more of a guessing game, the next clip in the package always caught him by surprise and his trademark high collar looked more like a support system for his head than a style choice. 

But as he lost his ability to articulate the source of the Leafs power-play woes, he'd never lose track of his core belief: Canada is great and everywhere else should be more like us.

(Side note: Nationalism is stupid. Where you’re born or choose to live doesn’t make you special and where someone else is born or chooses to live doesn’t make them less than.)

And while some readers no doubt came here to skip the article and then shout, "That wasn't what Grapes meant!" or "What happened to freedom of speech?" in the comments, this isn't a referendum on what he said. It offended enough people to cause action. And if he didn't this time, he was bound to upset masses down the line.

But that's kind of the point. It always seemed like this was how it would end for Cherry, a man who prides himself on saying what he means and standing by it. He was never going to call it quits on his own and Sportsnet has had ample opportunity to part ways with him under more pleasant circumstances. They chose to avoid having an unpleasant conversation and angering his fans. 

Now, pretty much everyone is angry. 

So for anyone to praise Sportsnet of doing the right thing by firing him, is to mistakenly praise a company that has only ever acted in self-preservation since they've signed this NHL rights deal. They didn't do anything, except desperately try to make their phones stop ringing.

This is not an example of corporate morality. People made this change happen.

But for those counting it as a victory for woke culture, know that Sportsnet hasn't woken up to anything. Brian "stand for the anthem, always" Burke, is reportedly next in line for the job. These tweets likely didn't change the viewpoint, it just changed the messenger.

And for those that hate that Cherry was let go and want to #BoycottRogers, by all means, go ahead. Based on Sportnet's track record, those "values and what they stand for" as a network will shift once ratings drop again.




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Eric Thompson

About the Author: Eric Thompson

It's 2019 and Eric Thompson still gets paid to write about news. What a world we live in!
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