VAUGHAN: Cherry’s departure allows Canadians to deconstruct nationalist hockey myths

Punditry that reflects the diverse, inclusive nature of Canada needed to replace Grapes

Now that Don Cherry, the loved by some, loathed by others hockey personality, has been let go by Rogers Sportsnet maybe it’s time we stop wrapping hockey in this country with divisive nationalism.

The specific straw that broke the camels back was Cherry saying, “You people that come here… you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that… These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price”. A cringe-worthy mash-up that is, unfortunately, fairly on brand for Cherry.

Cherry long championed himself as a defender of Canadian values with views like this and many of his two minute Coach’s Corner editorials, which was handed to him after a six-year NHL coaching stint in which he lost in the Stanley Cup finals twice with the Boston Bruins, have often criticized anyone and anything he has decided is not Canadian.

This has included short-sighted nativist views such as a long-held aversion to Europeans, particularly Russians, entering the NHL and also, more locally, his apparent dislike for French-Canadian hockey players including a comment that said Quebecois, and Europeans, are the only ones who wear protective visors on the ice.

With his deplatforming and subsequent departure, maybe Canadians, and in particular hockey-loving Canadians can finally divorce their national identity from the white-anglophile agenda that Cherry – and many others in the hockey world — continue to perpetuate and further open up the game to the diverse community that Canada is.

Contrary to the cranky, meandering and ethnocentric views expressed by Cherry, Canada and hockey have never been more diverse and that is nothing but great for the country and particularly for the game of hockey.

The sport, which has long been a white middle-class game, has grown throughout the world, most distinctly in communities of colour. Womens’ hockey has also seen noticeable breakthroughs outside of the United States and Canada, where it has consistently done well.

Within Canada, charities, social programs and a general will to open up the game have allowed the game to be more accessible by the reducing barriers and the considerable costs associated with the game, bringing in hundreds of new fans and families that previously may have not had access to the hockey world.

What this means is that the brand of nationalism cloaked behind the veil of hockey that Cherry and others have adopted is is perhaps finally now stale and can now be replaced with a more inclusive vision of the sport.

Cherry’s departure was a long time coming and this is simply the latest of a long history of outdated outbursts. While it may be unfortunate to some to not have Cherry on Coach’s Corner, it can very much be a teachable moment for this country.

Hockey has long been a connecting string for this country and personalities from Foster Hewitt to Ron McLean have long been Canadian icons known to millions.

With the game growing more diverse, now can be the time for the game to drop some of it’s unfortunate past in favour of embracing an inclusive message that will allow the game to remain a Canadian institution in the 21st century.

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