In the late 1980s, I was with one of my brothers and two friends in a sports pub in Edmonton named after Don Cherry, the coach of Coach’s Corner.
It was a warm Saturday afternoon and the Oilers were playing an early-season home game at old Northlands Coliseum, broadcast on Hockey Night in Canada. Cherry was in town to do his Coach’s Corner bit and, likely due to the licensing agreement by which he lent his name to the chain of sports bars across Canada, he had to drop by the pub after the game and make an appearance.
We had been in the establishment since late afternoon, sitting with the late John Kordic — in Edmonton hoping to soon restart his NHL career with the Oilers — and his girlfriend.
None of us were feeling any pain when Cherry, accompanied by lights and microphones, sauntered into his namesake pub.
He eventually ended up at our table, where he gave “Johnny” a hug. He then posed for photos.
The entire time, Cherry was a grump. He did not want to be there and became especially upset when anybody deigned to touch him.
As we gathered for a group photo, Cherry was commanding the photographer to hurry up.
“I don’t get paid enough for this shit,” Cherry muttered amid his fans.
To which Kordic replied, “Hell, Don, I don’t get paid anything.”
I met Cherry on two subsequent occasions and he remained a grump — but I usually tuned into Coach’s Corner because his rants, be they about hockey or politics, were amusing.
His mangled use of the English language and his penchant for saying absolutely the wrong thing again and again reminded me of my dad and his generation of men, under whom I grew up in a decidedly different era. Cherry could be outrageous, but I never found him to be offensive.
But, as society progressed — some, as social media has shown us this week, would say regressed — Cherry’s rants became more and more offside to many. His onscreen partner, Ron McLean, apologized for Cherry’s weekend comments on Coach’s Corner, in which Cherry yelled at immigrants for not wearing poppies. Cherry refused to do the same and was fired.
He’s 85. He’s made a lot of money. He will be OK.
But the subject matter that led to his firing has me confused.
If Remembrance Day is a day to remember the sacrifices of those who died in the wars of yesterday so we can enjoy the freedoms of today, wouldn’t that logically mean we have the freedom to choose not to wear a poppy each November?
I do not wear a poppy, but I do drop money into the poppy collection bins and I do think about those who have died in war, such as my late father’s uncle, Roderick Foulds, who was shot down in the Second World War and after whom a swampy lake in northern Saskatchewan is named.
One need not wear a poppy — or post tributes to veterans on Facebook or even attend Remembrance Day ceremonies — to honour the dead.
A person with a poppy-less lapel, even an immigrant displaying a poppy-less lapel, can be as patriotic as the the person wearing the most elaborate poppy attire on Nov. 11.
This entire saga reminds me of the 1995 Seinfeld episode in which Kramer took part in the AIDS Walk, but chose not to wear the yellow ribbon. His stance was taken against what he called “ribbon bullies.”
For that, he was attacked.
It’s what you are thinking in your head and what you hold in your heart — not what you sport on your shirt or post on social media — that matters.
If you truly feel like honouring those who have served in our military, ditch this poppycock debate and visit the Royal Canadian Legion on Lansdowne and buy a veteran a beer.
After this ridiculous controversy, we all could use one.