Ron MacLean addresses Don Cherry’s firing on ‘Hockey Night in Canada’

Don Cherry. –AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese, File

Ron MacLean, the longtime broadcast partner of hockey commenter Don Cherry, attempted to address the derisive comments that led to Cherry’s dismissal during Saturday’s “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcast, telling the audience, “We are all hurting.”

“I have collapsed 100 times this week, if not more,” MacLean said Saturday night. “We’re all disappointed.”

Sportsnet fired Cherry on Monday, two days after his comments about immigrants sparked a firestorm. Those Nov. 9 remarks came during “Coach’s Corner,” an intermission segment during “Hockey Night in Canada” that also featured MacLean.

On the broadcast, Cherry criticized immigrants for not recognizing Remembrance Day, which is the country’s equivalent to Memorial Day. Canadians often wear artificial poppies around this time to commemorate military personnel who died during war, which was the focus of Cherry’s rant. He mentioned two areas with large ethnic populations while claiming that he rarely sees poppies there.

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“You people love – you, that come here, whatever it is – you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey,” Cherry said. “At least you could pay a couple of bucks for poppies or something like that. These guys paid for your way of life, that you enjoy in Canada.”

Saturday, MacLean – who told the television audience that “Coach’s Corner” was “no more” – spoke for almost five minutes in a monologue. He clearly, and admittedly, struggled with his message, at times recounting what happened on air while Cherry made his incendiary remarks, at others reflecting on his relationship with Cherry himself.

“I’ve sat all week long reflecting, listening to you, and I have heard you,” he told viewers. “I’ve reflected by listening to my own heart. I’ve struggled mightily to find the words, and I’m not sure I have them even now. But they say it’s a good thing, because when you can find the words, it’s dead in your heart. And it’s not dead in my heart.”

Cherry had just finished paying tribute to two young hockey players who had died, MacLean recounted, before his remarks about the poppies.

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“I was kind of processing what he was saying and thinking; I wasn’t in an ideological bubble at all,” MacLean said in his monologue. “I might have been in a friendship bubble, because I was kind of praying that I don’t think I’m hearing trouble, but I might be hearing trouble. Anyway, it was done. And then you called us on it.”

The backlash arrived almost immediately. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, the agency responsible for handling listener and viewer complaints, said last week it received so many complaints that they had exceeded its “technical processing capacities.”

Amid the fallout, MacLean apologized for not reacting to Cherry’s remarks live on the air, but Cherry, who has long been known for controversial comments, did not show contrition before his dismissal.

“Knowing what to overlook is wisdom, and I felt so bad, and I apologized immediately,” MacLean said. “And Don, you know Don. Defiant. There were steps that needed to be taken because of what had been said by Don, and he didn’t want to do those steps. So he made his choice and I made mine.”

MacLean said he thought about “falling on my sword, too,” but thought that wasn’t proper.

“If I do that, I infer what happened was right somehow, or that I’m going along to get along, or that I’m going to just sit silently by or be a bystander again in a situation,” he said. “Don taught me to stand right, so I had to have the courage of my convictions.”

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How the “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcast will change in the wake of Cherry’s firing remains somewhat unclear. A Sportsnet spokesman did not reply to a request for comment Saturday night. “We’re taking the time to explore new formats for the first intermission,” Sportsnet communications director Andrew Garas said in an email to the Canadian Press on Friday.

“I love you very much,” MacLean said, seemingly addressing Cherry himself. “And we honor you tonight in this last talk about a ‘Coach’s Corner.’ “