The Globe & Mail has learned that players singled out for criticism by Hockey Night In Canada star Don Cherry last week are not satisfied with Cherry’s attempted apologies and further recourse is being considered.
Saturday night on the Coach’s Corner segment, host Ron Maclean and Cherry tried to take the sting out of remarks Cherry had made on Thursday. Specifically, Cherry had called out former NHL players such as Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson for linking the issue of fighting in hockey to possible addiction and/or emotional problems later in life.
“The ones that I am really disgusted with,” Cherry said Thursday, “... are the bunch of pukes that fought before: Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson. (They say) 'Oh, the reason that they're drinking, (taking) drugs and alcoholics is because they're fighting.' You turncoats. You hypocrites."
Saturday, Maclean and Cherry suggested that the HNIC star’s comments were misunderstood, and contended that, despite clear language otherwise, Cherry never meant to link drug abuse to Grimson or Nilan. Cherry did apologize for using the word “pukes” on Saturday. Cherry, said Maclean, was actually very fond of the players he’d criticized. "They love you, you love them ..." said Maclean.
Apparently, Grimson, Nilan and Thomson aren’t feeling the love. Tuesday morning they issued this statement saying “Cherry inserted himself into a prominent debate that involves the recent tragic deaths of three (3) NHL players, drug addiction, alcohol abuse and mental illness. In doing so, Mr. Cherry targeted the above-named individuals, some of whom have suffered from such diseases, as a result of views they previously expressed. Mr. Cherry’s comments were more than inappropriate; they were vulgar and malicious.
“Furthermore, Mr. Cherry’s subsequent attempt to qualify his comments on October 8, 2011, was entirely ineffectual. Mr. Cherry’s conduct throughout has demonstrated a complete lack of decency. In light of the damaging and inflammatory nature of Mr. Cherry’s comments, Mssrs. Grimson, Nilan and Thomson are considering further recourse.”
The issue of concussions, fighting and head shots became a hot-button topic in the hockey world this summer after three former NHL enforcers-- Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade belak-- died. While the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the three were different, some seized on the coincidence to promote the issue of stopping fighting in the NHL and the problems of substance abuse among former enforcers.
That clearly infuriated Cherry who chose his first episode of Coach’s Corner in the 2011-’12 NHL season to defend the role of fighting and head shots in hockey. Cherry showed tapes of devastating head checks delivered by ex-NHL defenceman Scott Stevens to support his contention that the NHL’s new policies were ruining the physical nature of the sport. He also severely criticized Brendan Shanahan, the new vice president for player safety in the NHL.
After Cherry’s Thursday performance on HNIC, CBC issued a press release in which it said that Cherry “has strong opinions and expresses them colourfully and sometimes even outrageously; but his arguments and the many others heard on CBC HNIC, address issues that are being debated at all levels of professional hockey.” Otherwise the statement praised Cherry’s expertise and claimed Hockey Night in Canada will continue “to contribute to greater understanding of this important discussion about one of the country's most beloved pastimes.”
Subsequently, CBC vice president in charge of English services Kirstine Stewart spoke with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. While it’s not clear who initiated the conversation, Stewart felt compelled to issue a further public statement about Cherry saying, ““While we support his right to voice that opinion, we do not share his position,” Stewart said. “Player safety is a top priority for CBC, and we support the initiatives of the NHL and others in keeping players safe on and off the ice.”