MacLean Addresses Cherry's Firing; Replacement Speculation Abounds
Sportsnet's Ron MacLean addressed Don Cherry's recent firing in an on-air monologue during the first intermission of "HNIC," saying, "Coach's Corner is no more," according to the CP. MacLean opened the segment by "speaking alone on camera for nearly five minutes." MacLean: "We are all hurting. I have collapsed 100 times this week, if not more." MacLean said he had to choose "principle over friendship," adding, "I thought a lot about falling on my sword too. But then I thought, if I do that I infer what happened was right somehow." Online reactions to MacLean's comments were "mixed," as several people noted that he "barely touched on the xenophobic words" that got Cherry fired (CP, 11/16). The GLOBE & MAIL's Simon Houpt noted the first "HNIC" without Cherry in almost 40 years "struck a bold new tone, painting a portrait of hockey's future as multicultural and gender-balanced as the country." The show now "explicitly excludes Cherry, like an enemy of a Soviet state airbrushed from the history books" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/17).
UNCLEAR FUTURE: The CP's Gregory Strong noted fans should not "expect an immediate replacement" for Cherry, as Sportsnet may eventually take the long-running segment in a "different direction" (CP, 11/15). In Toronto, Lance Hornby asked, "Will Ron MacLean survive the ugly break-up with Cherry and could his own days be numbered, with a younger host -- possibly a woman or a visible minority -- inheriting his chair in the coming weeks or months?" One source said, "Even people working on the show are unsure what's going to happen the rest of the year. But I think it's going to be something completely new." Oddsmaker Bodog listed former NHL exec and current Sportsnet analyst Brian Burke as the "favourite to replace Cherry outright," followed by Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman and, "a long way back," former NHLer Colby Armstrong. But one source said Burke is "not a lock" unless a "major sponsor (such as Budweiser) decides they want someone outspoken like him." Other sources think that it "might take two or three people to carry the Cherry mantle, considering his vast influence." Perhaps a "celebrity guest panelist is brought in each week" (TORONTO SUN, 11/17).
TIMING IS EVERYTHING: The GLOBE & MAIL's Roy MacGregor wrote, "The game Cherry was hired to analyze and comment on in 1982 is a game he has not recognized for years." He is "hardly the only senior citizen in that condition," but he was the "only one with a weekly forum and national audience." Cherry's segment "should have shut down years ago, when Sportsnet took over from the CBC." If it had, Cherry "would have bowed out to great applause" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/16).
CULTURE PROBLEM: The GLOBE & MAIL's Houpt wrote the "lax culture" at "HNIC" over the years "helped create a set of circumstances that made it almost impossible for anyone to hold" Cherry and MacLean to account. One source said that there was a "large amount of fear among the staff toward the duo." Sportsnet producers "knew in broad strokes what Cherry was going to say" in his controversial appearance, but there "may not have been much that could have been done in the moment." The "HNIC" production crew is "not equipped with crisis-management experts who might have prodded MacLean to jump in on a comment Cherry had made" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/15). But in Montreal, Jack Todd wrote, "The Cherry mess was not of Sportsnet's making." The network "inherited it from the CBC, which had three decades to impose some sort of controls on Cherry and failed" (MONTREAL GAZETTE, 11/17).