Don Cherry is not very impressed with neurosurgeon Charles Tator. Approached on Sunday for comment about Tator's claim that Cherry is a "negative influence" in the fight against head injuries, the star of Coach's Corner dismissed Tator's allegation with a series of profane remarks.
Tator was quoted as saying that Cherry's embrace of rock 'em, sock 'em hockey on Hockey Night In Canada was an impediment to getting players to play safer.
Asked his response by a reporter outside radio studios in Toronto on Sunday, Cherry replied "I don't give a [expletive]about him, I don't give a [expletive]about him."
Earlier on Sunday, HNIC executive producer Sherali Najak defended his star. "Don Cherry's record of safety and respect in hockey speaks for itself," Najak said. "Everything from championing on-ice rules and equipment changes to leading the stop sign campaign, he has been the leader in teaching tough, smart hockey and promotes respect amongst players at every level."
Cherry himself was not fielding requests for interviews on the claims made by Tator at a Hockey Canada meeting in Regina on Friday. That is, until Colin D'Mello of 680 News in Toronto found the 75-year-old Cherry on Sunday to get a live reaction to the intimation that his "aggressive" philosophy was responsible for concussions.
Addressing the broadcast legend as "Mr. Cherry," D'Mello offered an opportunity to rebut Tator. Cherry first mocked the interview request, telling D'Mello that if he had something to say it wouldn't be to D'Mello's station.
"I'd do it on mine. Why the [expletive]would I do it on yours? Now I'm telling you to [expletive]off. How's that? Can I tell it any more quicker than that?"
When D'Mello persisted, an unidentified bystander asked, "Is this tape rolling?" At which point Cherry then laughed at the reporter, "Did you hear what he said? I told him [expletive]off, and he tells me there's no way I want to comment on it?"
Asked once more by D'Mello if he was going to let Tator have the final word in the public debate, Cherry repeated, "I don't give a [expletive]about him, I don't give a [expletive]about him."
There's no indication on the tape that Cherry did not know he was being interviewed. D'Mello did not respond to requests from The Globe and Mail for an interview.
The interview did not make it into the story posted on the 680 News website. In the era before the internet, the story might have died there. But the interview was posted to both Twitter and YouTube on Sunday. By yesterday morning the clip had been blocked on both sites, but not before being viewed by the public. Normally, controversial audio such as this would be gold for the station that obtained it. But Scott Metcalfe, news director of 680 News, (whose sister station, Fan 590, broadcasts long-standing and profitable Don Cherry's Grapevine) had not responded to The Globe and Mail's request for comment about why the audio was not used.
Cherry's boss at CBC Sports, executive director Scott Moore, told The Globe and Mail he felt Cherry, who has worked for HNIC since 1981, was unaware he was being interviewed - even though he recognized that D'Mello was a radio reporter from another station.
"This was clearly not recorded as an interview," Moore told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail message. "And it was clear that Don was unaware that he was being recorded. I would be upset if it was used on the air."
Tator was also contacted for comment but had not responded by press time. He has been a long-time proponent of finding ways to better protect hockey players from injury, and his research laboratory is dedicated to the study of acute spinal injury models.
Cherry is no stranger to controversy. Since being hired by Hockey Night In Canada, Cherry's comments have brought protests from many parties - including French Canadians, Europeans, opponents of hockey violence and more. Except for a brief period when his comments were time-delayed, Cherry has kept his job and seen his popularity reach the level where CBC is currently producing a film about his life.