Ron MacLean Deserves the Blame For Don Cherry

It’s time to replace the co-host of Coach’s Corner, but not the one you might think.

Pinko Liberals. Shady Russians. Female hockey players who look like slobs. The 2018 Don Cherry highlight reel is already filled with a collection of cringe-worthy gems, and we haven’t even reached the playoffs yet.

At the spry age of 83, Don Cherry is likely (mercifully) in the twilight of his long, complex career as a staple of Canadiana. Whether you love him or loathe him, at this point, he’s not likely to change. Since the 80’s, he’s been one of the most consistent and visible presences in Canadian culture, drawing millions of viewers, and outliving political figures, movements, and several technological disruptions. Despite how much has changed, Cherry has remained a constant.

But in the latter stages of his career, the Cherry barbs and bashings have become more frequent, prickly, and frankly, dangerous. Cherry’s found that his popularity spikes when he taps into rhetoric surrounding political correctness and populist rebuttals of ‘liberal ideology’, and his attacks have spilt into arenas he’s clearly not equipped to talk about. Cherry often borrows from the Trumpian lexicon to make his point, spurring hatred of ‘the other’ that has no place in a national broadcast.

So, what do you do with Don?

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The easy answer is to find a nice farm to send him to, and let him live out his days deriding the foreign squirrels that invade this property. But there’s understandably a reluctance to take him off the air, as he’s still a ratings darling, and you know, ‘clickz are king’ for broadcasters. Plus, even if there were an appetite to forcibly retire Cherry, he’s not one to go quietly into the night. If Gregg Zaun has taught us anything (and literally, there is only one thing he’s taught us) it’s that if a brash, misleading, provocative voice wants a platform, all you need is a webcam and a Youtube account to get your message out. Not to mention the fact that trying to silence Cherry would unquestionably lead to martyrdom. So that isn’t a viable option.

The second approach would be convincing Cherry that the remainder of his time on this earth is best-served off the airwaves, and the longer he continues, the more his legacy becomes tarnished. But that relies on Cherry’s willingness to A) sacrifice his place in the spotlight and B) care about what his detractors are saying, neither of which is likely to happen anytime soon. So, if they can’t take him off the air, and he’s unwilling to leave on his own terms, there’s only solution to the Cherry dilemma:

Ron MacLean needs to grow a pair.

For close to thirty years, MacLean’s played the congenial, contemplative, and most importantly, complicit accomplice to Cherry’s sermons. Only speaking when he’s spoken to (unless he’s playing time-cop), MacLean has somehow managed to wrongfully earn the reputation of the steady-hand that maintains Coach’s Corner’s balance and a semblance of credibility — while doing nothing of the sort.

MacLean’s efforts routinely fall short when it matters most. At best, MacLean offers a soft, unconvincing reminder that the topic Cherry is about to cover might be inappropriate, and then allows Cherry to continue, unimpeded (think of the oft-uttered ‘are you sure you want to get into that?’ refrain). Rarely does Sideshow Ron offer the kind of intelligent, thoughtful, critical rebuttal that Don’s worldviews warrant. Regularly, Ron settles for his default exasperated shrug and downward glance, a staple as recognizable now as Cherry’s suits.

Defenders of the Coach’s Corner co-hosts regularly bust out the ‘Canada’s Drunken Uncle’ defence, to take the sting out of Cherry’s most controversial views. The “drunken uncle analogy” though is predicated on two things: 1) Everyone recognizes and accepts that he’s the ‘drunken uncle’ and 2) There’s a voice of dissent that immediately challenges and refutes whatever he has to say. Whether it’s the spouse or a sibling or a snotty tween with a smartphone, the drunken uncle’s opinions are exposed and immediately extinguished, undercutting the credibility of the source. The trouble is, enough people believe Cherry is a credible voice, and the ideas he puts out into the world are allowed to spread, unchallenged. Ron is supposed to be the one challenging him, and he’s either unable or unwilling to do so.

In a perfect world, the myths about women in sports, fear of the other, and tribalism that Cherry champions wouldn’t exist. But letting them fester and slowly infect the darkest corners of society isn’t the answer either. Cherry’s views are problematic because they’re landing with a captive and malleable audience, and aren’t being openly deconstructed and delegitimized by the man that’s supposed to be filling that role. MacLean has proven for three decades that he isn’t equipped for the challenge, and if Cherry’s time isn’t up, MacLean’s should be. Hockey needs a countervailing voice unwilling to compromise on their values when Cherry begins spewing the worst of his ideological beliefs and to present the kind of worldview that Cherry refuses to embrace. Maybe Sportsnet should see what Strombo is up to these days.

Dan Szczepanek
Dan Szczepanek
Dan Szczepanek is the founder and Editor in Chief of Grandstand Central, an outlet he helped launch in 2017 to look at the intersectionality of sports and world around it. He's a recovering ad-man, and former politics wonk.


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