Friday, March 14, 2014


So Rogers is starting to shuffle Don Cherry off towards retirement. And with him, presumably, Ron MacLean.

Word is that George Stromboulopoulos is going to take over hosting duties on Hockey Night In Canada once Rogers assumes editorial control next season.

The only people who have no emotion over this, seemingly, are those few so-called Canadians who do not care one whit about hockey. Everyone else has weighed in pro or con. Surveying around, very few people are unabashed Strombo supporters: most people seem to view him as an interloper from well outside the hockey world, even though sports broadcasting is where he started his career.  No, it looks like people aren't so much pro-Strombo as viciously anti-Cherry (and to a lesser extent, anti-MacLean).

There are certain touchstones in Canada that derail sane, rational discussion. As in many countries, mention of anything that could conceivably have anything to do with government is like a spark to a bomb: here, it immediately brings about a brouhaha between hyper-partisan Harper supporters and people who believe Stephen Harper is some sort of devil.  But we have odder talking points in Canada, and they revolve around coffee, donuts, and hockey.

None of these things, I'd wager, is a reliable topic of conversation in, say, the U.S. of A. Outside certain hockey-crazed communities (and contrary to popular Canadian opinion, not all of them are in the northern half of the country), our national sport does not register in the lower 48. America may be the birthplace of Starbucks but just try to find one on an Interstate. You can traverse most of the length of I-75 without finding a coffee chain; sometimes it seems like you can't go across the street in Canada without being in view of a Tim Horton's. It's by far the  most popular fast food outlet in the country and most of them are packed at all hours of the day, especially this month.

About that, though. Mention coffee and/or donuts in any context in Canada and a cavalcade of people will descend upon you and tell you that Tim Horton's is evil, their coffee is poisonous, and their donuts are rotten. You are not allowed to disagree with any of this and retain your humanity.

And then there's hockey, our national winter sport (the national summer sport is lacrosse, and comparatively few Canadians have ever even seen a lacrosse game, live or on television.) I'm tempted to say that EVERY Canadian has seen at least part of a hockey game, and a solid majority of us are a little bit fanatical on the subject. Our fanaticism extends well beyond individual teams and players and into the personalities that surround the game.

Don Cherry is one such personality. Love him or hate him, nobody can deny that.

The Upholstered One has been pontificating from his seat opposite Ron MacLean on Coaches Corner for thirty three years. In that time he has been voted one of the Ten Greatest Canadians and courted seemingly endless controversy. There are people who don't even watch Hockey Night in Canada but who tune in at 7:50 every Saturday night just to catch Coach's Corner; there are others who say they don't watch ANY hockey on Saturday night simply because 'that racist, misogynist knuckle-dragger' is part of the program. Cherry has rabid fans...and much more rabid haters.

And why? Because people seem to be incapable of differentiating between Don Cherry the person and Don Cherry the persona.  The persona is gruff, brusque, everybody's opinionated old uncle. In today's vernacular, there are zero fucks given. You think a man who gets his Saturday suits at Fabricland cares what anyone thinks about him?

Well, yeah, he does, because he's human. Beneath that persona is a teddy bear with a heart of gold, the most generous man you could ever hope to meet. He's forgotten more about hockey than most people ever knew and he is an unabashed cheerleader for the game played hard but he would say, "the Canadian way".

The garish patriotism grates on people a little, I get that. But let's make a couple things clear here: one, Cherry is Canadian, Kingston, Ontario born and bred, so you wouldn't expect him to cheerlead for any other country, now, would you? Two: the man turns eighty this year. He's of a generation well before political correctness, a generation for whom frankness and clarity of speech are a prized virtue.

He has some views I disagree with. Strongly. I don't share his love of 'rock-em, sock-em' fighting in hockey. I don't like some of his politics. But for some weird reason, I don't hate the man. On the contrary, I respect and admire him.

I'm sorry, I don't see why people feel justified in hating him. I don't understand how anyone can claim to hate a man they've never even met. But that kind of free-floating hatred is everywhere these days. You're not allowed simply to respectfully disagree with something or someone: it must be STUPID or EVIL or both. Names are called (supposedly Don Cherry is misogynistic...I was surprised the person who called him that could spell it. How they square that with him having married not once but twice, not to mention his close friendships with the women who play hockey for Canada...I have no idea.

What do people get out of hating so easily? The few times I've felt raw hatred in my life, it hasn't sat well with me. Like every other kind of stress for me, it settles (or rather, unsettles) in my gut. I feel poisoned by it. Doesn't everyone feel that way? Apparently not.

I know nothing about George Strombolopoulous, and even if his hosting of Hockey Night In Canada rubs me the wrong way, so what? I'm there for the hockey game, what are you there for?

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