The Don Cherry haters are out in full force. Off with his head, they cry, or, at least, off with his mic. But here’s the news for Don Cherry bashers:
You should be thankful for him.
That’s right, thankful. While the progressive thinkers and modern hockey sages knock him down and drag him through the dirt, demanding that he be removed from the air, while they expend vast amounts of energy decrying his continued presence during their precious intermission time, while they pound the desk and turn beet-red and wail about the damage he’s doing to the forward march of hockey’s continued emergence from the dark ages, they are missing an obvious point. That Don Cherry is helpful to the cause.
Because here’s the great irony about Don Cherry’s notorious rant during Thursday night’s segment of Coach’s Corner:
It will accelerate hockey’s march towards improved player safety and intolerance for cheap shots and fisticuffs.
Let’s put aside, for a moment, your great distaste for Don Cherry’s views on hockey. Let’s put aside the supposed issue of whether he should be allowed to “sully” the good name of the great tradition that is Hockey Night In Canada. None of that matters when it comes to the changing face of hockey’s physical contact rules.
Instead, let’s focus on what today has brought, in the wake of Cherry’s unabashed tirade against a gentler brand of pro hockey.
Yes, the usual outlets for discussion have been mobilized to talk about the issues of head hunting and pugilism in the NHL. Nothing new there, as there is an ongoing conversation about the state of the game and where it’s going at the sports media outlets. But check the level of vigour, intensity and frequency of these discussions. Amplified greatly in the wake of Cherry’s latest assault on progress.
As well, you’ll hear this discussion on non sports outlets as well. Jim Richards, at NEWSTALK 1010 made room for a conversation with former NHL enforcer Chris Nilan, amidst the usual current events and pop culture fare he offers on a daily basis. And this on a day where there’s no shortage of provincial election subject matter. (Note: while Richards booked both Nilan and Jim Thomson, he informed me after this blog was posted that both were no-shows)
So, what we have here, is a real spike in the conversation about the state of hockey. Born in discussions about the relevance and appropriateness of Don Cherry’s performance and standing, the back-and-forth invariably turns to tangential issues. Issues that have nothing to do with Cherry, and everything to do with player safety and where the NHL is headed.
Cherry’s strongly worded condemnations of the sport becoming too kind, too gentle, should be welcomed by those who oppose him. Because every time he overpowers even his own previous outrageous diatribes, it is met with an equally, if not more, powerful response in opposition. It’s a chemistry that jolts the conversation forward in leaps and bounds.
Ask yourself this question: Do you think Don Cherry is a buffoon? A clown not worthy of being taken seriously? Do you believe what he stands for is damaging? I’d argue that you can’t have it both ways. If Cherry is to be ridiculed, he is not to be taken seriously. Therefore, what he says isn’t nearly so damaging as you might think. After all, he isn’t going to sway you to his side. It’s also a given that you can’t sway someone who believes what he says to be the gospel truth, to your side of the equation. That part of it is a wash.
What we are left with is the malleable undecideds. Tell me, does it strike you that moderate people can generally be convinced to shift to the reckless fringes of any issue? Or are they more likely to be turned off by heavy-handed rhetoric. If it’s your kids you worry about, maybe you can keep them from watching the “funny man in the crazy clothes.” If not, you should be able to easily combat the weekly lessons you fear they may be taught by counteracting them with lessons from the one person your kid really aspires to be like: You.
Think Don Cherry shouldn’t be allowed to “peddle his poison” on national TV? Wrong. He has a right to state his opinion. You have a right to state yours. But it is a widely held and cherished notion that we do not muzzle a Canadian’s right to his or her opinion and thoughts, unless they reach the pernicious threshold of mongering hate or discrimination. Cherry’s opinions on hockey fall far short of that and should not be the subject of banishment discussions.
Don’t like Don Cherry? Hit one of the buttons on your clicker when the time comes.
And rest assured that he’s actually doing you a favour by providing a loud, provocative counterpoint to the glacial advance of change in the NHL.
He makes that glacier move much more quickly.