In recent weeks, reading through the Toronto rags, I have noticed in most sports opinion and fan pages an almost continuous reply and response to Don Cherry's eccentric opinions. In the Toronto Sun today, Steve Simmons even gave old "Grapes" a full page write up. It seems, every Canadian sports fan has got something to say about Cherry, taking him at face value or as a joke.
When I first moved to Canada and first saw Coach's Corner, I thought it was quite odd to have an affectionate but irreverent parody on Hockey, during a live telecast of an NHL game. It brought a wry smile to my face, much the same way the great Australian sport humorists Roy and HG, or the 12th Man did back home. (See video).
However, unlike the Australian equivalents above, this wasn't tongue in cheek, this segment was taken seriously.
To an outsider, the man is quite a contradiction, it's hard to make sense of him.
Is Cherry a performer or a pundit? The distinction is not very clear.
To be sure, I like that he is patriotism about Canada. In a country where patriotism is not particularly encouraged, it is refreshing to see an identity show some Canadian spirit.
He shows great passion towards Canadian players and athletes in general. He is eager to exhibit the strong, tough, and skillful attributes Canadian athletes have in spades.
Unfortunately, he likes to really bag foreigner players, and in the past, Canadians from Quebec.This distracts from his message and makes his opinions seem bigoted and ignorant, further making him less meaningful and less able to take serious.
A recent example of this, is Cherry's criticism of Alexander Ovechkin and his post goal celebrations. In his opinion, Ovechkin behaviour is similar to what soccer players perform. Over the top and "goofy". Cherry then compared Canada's Jarome Iginla's low key celebrations, making the point that Hockey doesn't need this excessive jubilation. Canadians don't go on like this.
The contradiction here is that Cherry is all about pomposity, grandiose, and prima donna behaviour. His outrageous suits, his controversial opinions, his own, on field behaviour (see him behind the Boston bench during his coaching days). It's like taking economic advice from Bozo the clown.
Why Cherry get's some much attention is that the NHL is void of any real characters. It is the characters that make a sport. Hockey's pinup boy Sidney Crosby is about as bland as they get. Yet it's a systematic problem with quite a few sports, especially Tennis and Golf.
Hockey is a great game, but without the characters to jeer or cheer for, what's the point of watching?
Sport is theatre, it is a symbolism of war, it needs differing characters to keep people, outside of core hockey audiences watching. It proves that someone like Sean Avery, a villain, isn't such a bad thing for the game.
Cherry gives hockey an entertaining voice. If you take him at face value or for a giggle, be sure, that even watching another woeful Leafs season, you will get something to smile or grimace about in his weekly ten minutes on a Saturday night