TORONTO — Sportsnet apologized for hockey commentator Don Cherry’s remarks on national television about his belief that new immigrants do not support veterans by wearing poppies — following an intense backlash from the public, politicians and the NHL.
“Don’s discriminatory comments are offensive and they do not represent our values and what we stand for as a network,” Sportsnet President Bart Yabsley said in a statement Sunday.
“We have spoken with Don about the severity of this issue and we sincerely apologize for these divisive remarks.”
Cherry, 85, seemingly singled out new immigrants in Toronto and Mississauga, Ont., where he lives, for not honouring Canada’s veterans and dead soldiers during his weekly Coach’s Corner segment on Hockey Night in 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.”
Cherry did not respond to multiple phone calls seeking comment.
The National Hockey League said in a statement that Cherry’s remarks were “offensive and contrary to the values we believe in.”
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie called his comments “despicable.”
“We’re proud of diverse cultural heritage and we’ll always stand up for it,” she said on Twitter. ”New immigrants enrich our country for the better. We’re all Canadians and wear our poppies proudly.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory implored Cherry to come to Old City Hall on Remembrance Day to “see thousands of Canadians of all ages, nationalities, faiths and backgrounds” who honour veterans.
“Don Cherry is way off base to question the devotion of newer Canadians to the very same veterans and the sacrifices we will honour tomorrow on Remembrance Day,” Tory said in a statement.
“His comments are unfair and just plain wrong.”
Former Liberal MP Bob Rae also weighed in.
“Cherry’s remarks were ignorant and prejudiced, and at this point in our history can’t go without comment.”
Outrage was building online on Sunday with many on Twitter calling for Cherry to be fired.
Yet hundreds of social media users supported Cherry’s comments. Some said they wanted more people to wear poppies, while others pointed fingers at immigrants.
Rumours circulated about the possibility of Cherry being cut from Coach’s Corner earlier this year after a Toronto Sun columnist wrote that his return to the show had not been confirmed by the summer.
Cherry said at the time that he was not retiring from the decades-old show yet.
Hockey Night in Canada used to be a long-time CBC Saturday night staple. The show and its games moved to Sportsnet when Rogers landed a 12-year, $5.2 billion national broadcast rights deal with the NHL that began in 2014.
The show is still broadcast on CBC in a sub-licensing deal with Rogers Media, which owns Sportsnet. But the show is run by Sportsnet and filmed in its studio in the CBC building in Toronto.
“As Rogers Sportsnet is the national rights holder for NHL Hockey in Canada, CBC has no purview over any editorial (choice of commentators or what they say) with respect to Hockey Night in Canada,” CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said in an email.