It's been called maudlin and inappropriate, but Don Cherry stands by his decision to show pictures of war casualties on Coaches Corner. The families appreciate it, and he thinks it's the right thing to do. Christie Blatchford asks him to explain.
Christie Blatchford: How did you start talking about soldiers?
Don Cherry: I can’t remember. I know that it was at least four years ago.
CB: Do you remember what made you think of it? Any recollection of what your thought process was?
DC: I remember when they first were killed overseas, it was front page and it was the first thing on the news. Then it got to be, after a while, second page and about the third thing on the news. And I remember it got to be about the sixth page and I said, “There’s something wrong here.”
CB: Anyone in a family ever complain?
DC: No. Never been one. It’s always the mother that writes, though. Isn’t that strange?
CB: Ever hear from a family of a dead soldier who didn’t want it?
CB: Does anybody ever say you shouldn’t be doing this, what’s this doing on a hockey program?
DC: Yeah. Absolutely. There’s a left-wing young woman out in Calgary [who] really ripped me and said that I’m putting on equal a Stanley Cup victory with the death of the soldiers. And she doesn’t feel that the death of soldiers should be celebrated with hockey. And I’ve had other reporters call it “maudlin.” Had to look it up, what it meant. But that’s very limited. People come up in airports and I get letters from mothers of soldiers. I must say, and you can tell me, the feeling I have, it’s not guilty, but it’s a feeling when people come up to me and say, “Really appreciate, you know, that’s great what you do on television for the soldiers.” I always get a queasy feeling that … I don’t know what the feeling is. Am I doing it, it almost feels like I’m doing it for, I don’t know what. I get a funny feeling when they say that. I just say thanks.
CB: Ever thought about compatibility of the national game and the nation’s soldiers? Is that a natural thing, do you think?
DC: Oh, when I see these soldiers at airports and that, when I meet them in Petawawa and that, they all remind me of hockey players. They’re all the same age, they’re 22 or 23; dynamite shape, squeeze your hand right in two when you talk to them; and they’re all hockey players.
CB: They almost all are too…
DC: Yeah, and they’re as polite and as nice as hockey players, politer I must say, just the same nice, you can tell they come from small towns and stuff like that.
CB: Does Ron have any problem with it?
DC: No, as a matter of fact – I’m going to give you inside stuff – couple times, when I get going on them [the soldiers’ stories], and I shove the letter over to him and he shoved it back, and couldn’t continue. I try not to look at them, eh, when I’m doing it, because once I look at them.
CB: You’re done?
DC: Yeah. There was one guy, looked to be about 16 years old there, I think he was 19 or something. Just starting out in life.
CB: So you have no plans to stop doing this?
DC: Kathy Broderick is the girl who does it all. She runs the CBC by the way. Soon as she finds out [about a death], she phones me right away. And she gets all the information, she does the Nov. 11, it takes her a long time, fade in, fade out: She does it all.
CB: So as long as Canadian soldiers are in Afghanistan, dying...
DC: It’ll be on. And I’ve had no problems from the CBC about it.
CB: Now when you take the summer off, are you able to take it off from bad news about Canadian soldiers?
DC: “No, and I see it, I read it, I keep the write-ups, I got the write-ups of them all and I keep them.
CB: When did you start on Hockey Night in Canada?
CB: “About the time Rick Hillier called the dark days for the military.
DC: “Well, Trudeau, eh? Trudeau did more to destroy our service and army; I think the very first thing he did was take away The Black Watch. What a guy.
CB: You started wearing the poppy on TV pretty quickly after being on Hockey Night?
CB: Now you have all the newscasters wearing it practically three weeks before ...
DC: And at the time, nobody wore it. Nobody. I’m not saying I did [it], but nobody on the streets wore poppies. We didn’t show much patriotism, because if you show patriotism – if you’re sort of an extreme patriot, like me – it means that you’re a bigot, to other countries. It’s not that you’re putting down other countries; it’s that you think Canada is the best, everybody else is No. 2. There’s nothing wrong with that. See, I spent a lot of time in the States, and that’s the way they feel. Well, I feel the States is second to us, but they feel, you know what I mean? That’s the way everybody should feel. I feel everybody in Canada should think Canada’s No. 1. I go by the old construction redneck, if you don’t think Canada’s No. 1, go back where you think is No. 1. That’s simple. And that’s the way I feel.
CB: You ever want to join the military growing up?
DC: No, I was nuts over hockey. What I wanted to do if I couldn’t play or be in hockey was be a policeman.
CB: Well, that’s close to being a soldier.
DC: Every day they go out and put their lives on the line, and always criticized. Just infuriates me, when I hear about these detainees, don’t they understand that the troops, I’ve had troops tell me in the airport – be more worried about us than the people that are trying to kill us.
CB: What do you think of the Highway of Heroes?
DC: I don't care who you are, the hardest heart in the world … to see all the people, and not just old people – a lot of people think it's just old people – all the kids and to see the cars on the other side [of Highway 401] stop and to see the OPP saluting, and the firefighters. I tell you, boy, don't tell me there's not a lot of patriotic Canadians. It's just that we don't want to show it. Like I get criticized, I think because I'm an extreme patriot and nobody ever wants to do that because if you do, like I said earlier, you're sort of like you're putting other countries down. People in Canada, we're so nice we don't want to offend anyone.
CB: This queasy feeling that you mention: Is it because you worry if you’re doing the right thing by mentioning those soldiers?
DC: No, like my thoughts are, the people are kinda saying, “Great, Don,” and what am I? Am I turning into a hero for putting these on? It kind of bothers me that way, you know what I mean? I just say thanks. The soldiers appreciate it, like when I see them at airports. They appreciate the support. And I’ve had some strange things said [to me]. I had a guy come up to me in the airport, a young guy, and he said my buddy just flew over yesterday to Afghanistan and he said, “Well if I buy one,” he says, “at least I’ll make Coach’s Corner.”