don cherry
© Reuters / Chris Wattie
Canadian hockey commentator Don Cherry speaks to journalists on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on November 7, 2006.
Calling out immigrants who do not wear a poppy in memory of WWI veterans got legendary Canadian sportscaster Don Cherry fired and further polarized the nation struggling to reconcile "woke" values with its history and tradition.

Red poppy badges are a must-have accessory around Remembrance Day - November 11 - across the British Commonwealth, symbolizing the armistice that ended the First World War. When Cherry - the octogenarian sports commentator and former hockey coach - called out immigrants who refused to wear the badge, however, he was fired from Sportsnet and accused of being xenophobic and racist.

During an episode of his Coach's Corner show on Saturday, Cherry lamented that "nobody wears the poppy" in downtown Toronto, unlike in smaller towns across Canada.

"You people ... 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," Cherry said. "These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price."

While acknowledging that Cherry - known as 'Grapes' - is "synonymous with hockey," Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley denounced his "divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for."

Cherry's words were "offensive and contrary to the values we believe in," the NHL said.


The issue took no time to become political, with conservatives insisting Cherry's remarks were neither racist nor xenophobic but elementary patriotism, while the ruling liberals raced who would denounce him the loudest.

Seeking to prove Cherry wrong, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) went to Calgary - not Toronto - and found immigrants who wore poppies. Of the five people interviewed, only one said he was hurt by Cherry's remarks. Others agreed with his sentiments, if not his phrasing, saying that everyone who lives in Canada should indeed wear the badge to show proper respect for the veterans.


Canadian national identity has been shaped in great part by the sacrifices of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) on the Western Front during the Great War, especially the "Hundred Days" campaign of 1918. Out of the 620,000 men mobilized, almost 40 percent ended up either killed or wounded by the end of the war.

The poppy symbol itself originated in Canada, drawn from the country's best-known poem, "In Flanders Fields." It was written in 1915, after the Second Battle of Ypres, by Lt. Colonel John McCrae - an officer in the CEF who would not live to see the armistice.

Modern Canada has one of the world's highest per-capita immigration rates, with most of the country's population growth coming from admitting over 300,000 migrants a year. As a result, it seems highly susceptible for the kind of identity politics-driven outrage that cost Cherry his job.

"I know what I said and I meant it," Cherry said on Monday, maintaining that his words were not bigoted but patriotic. "To keep my job, I cannot be turned into a tamed robot."

While the NHL and Sportsnet clearly disagree, Moscow's HC Dynamo has invited Cherry to come to Russia instead, saying that they need an analyst who could speak his mind.