CBC commentator Don Cherry violated the honour code that he so often praises when he called three former hockey tough guys “pukes” for criticizing fighting in hockey. And then he violated it a second time when he couldn’t find it in himself to say he was sorry for his demeaning remarks.
In hockey’s honour code, a fighter does not fight a non-fighter; similarly, a broadcaster with honour does not stomp on men who may be down, brain-injured or without a way to fight back.
The men he called “pukes” – Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan, Jim Thomson – are fighters he has sung paeans to. Once he actually kissed Mr. Nilan and said, “I love you” to him on Hockey Night in Canada. These men have earned the right to their views the hardest way possible.
Mr. Thomson had 121 fights, including an astounding 41 in one vicious minor-league season. He spoke eloquently on CBC-Radio’s As It Happens. “It took my soul, it took my spirit,” he said of fighting. “The drugs, the alcohol, the depression – it made me want to kill myself.”
Is Mr. Thomson a “puke”?
Mr. Grimson didn’t earn his nickname “the Grim Reaper” for scoring goals; he had 217 fights in his NHL career, and retired because of a brain injury. But he had the wherewithal to become a lawyer.
Is Mr. Grimson a “puke?”
Mr. Nilan had 250 NHL fights, and looks it. He explained in a radio interview that he does not blame hockey for his drug or alcohol addiction. “I got into what I got into. . . . I’m moving ahead. I’m not ashamed.”
Is Mr. Nilan a “puke”?
Fans, the league and the media should force themselves to contemplate what happens to the brain after 250 bare-knuckle fights. (For comparison, Muhammad Ali had 61 fights in his pro career, and suffers from Parkinson’s.) The brain damage is a virtual certainty.
These are the men created by hockey, for hockey. They were damaged by hockey, for hockey. They are men of dignity and an authentic, hard-earned wisdom. They deserve to be heard.
The CBC should bring these three men on to Coach’s Corner to face Mr. Cherry, and let him, and all of hockey, hear what a human being feels like after 250 bare-knuckle fights.