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JACK TODD: Coach's Corner was a two-man farce for three decades

 Once the servile Ron MacLean, left, crawled into the seat opposite Don Cherry, right, on Coach’s Corner, Cherry was free to play the bully boy without fear of contradiction, Jack Todd writes.
Once the servile Ron MacLean, left, crawled into the seat opposite Don Cherry, right, on Coach’s Corner, Cherry was free to play the bully boy without fear of contradiction, Jack Todd writes.

It was always going to end badly.

As long as he could earn seven figures a year with his bigoted, semi-coherent rants, Don Cherry was going to keep at it. He would never elect to go gently into that good night, would never quit while he was ahead, would never acknowledge he was wrong about any of it and had been for 30 years, would never retire gracefully.

No. Canada’s national disgrace could only exit this way. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Don’t talk to me about “free speech.” Free speech is not hate speech. When you target specific groups as Cherry has done, you legitimize hatred and discrimination, and that is intolerable in a democracy. Cherry had to go: the only shame is that his firing came at least 25 years too late.

The ink was barely dry on Cherry’s pink slip when I began hearing from the fan demographic the CBC had ignored for so long: francophones in Quebec and across the country, whose take boiled down to this: “Oh, so now you fire him.”

The anger is understandable. From day one, francophones have been near the top of Cherry’s target list, along with chicken Swedes, tree-hugging liberals and the city of Toronto for putting bike lanes where he wanted to drive.

I would like to think my French-speaking friends are wrong, that had Cherry gone after them instead of “you people” during the rant that got him fired, the reaction would have been as swift and decisive.

There were two factors in Cherry’s firing that were not present in his ugly past:

First, Hockey Night in Canada is now run by Rogers Sportsnet, a private entity, not the taxpayer-funded CBC.

Second, social media, for better or worse, can unleash a lynch mob in a matter of minutes.

Would the same firestorm have resulted had Cherry said something like “you Frenchies” instead of “you people?” We’ll never know. Because of the language barrier, it would have taken longer for the outrage to build. In the social-media world, with its nanosecond attention span, delay can be fatal.

Francophones who are skeptical about what would have happened if Cherry had attacked them can point to no end of evidence. There was the revolting “rap” video, or the time Cherry said Mario Lemieux (he of the 690 career goals and 1,033 assists) was too soft for the NHL. Or the time he said “only Europeans and French guys wear visors.”

None of it seemed to matter. Nor did the fact Cherry was in a constant position of conflict of interest, using his bully pulpit to promote fighting in the NHL while profiting handsomely off his Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em hockey fight videos.

It was Sportsnet that would ultimately fire the man — but 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.

If the taxpayer-funded CBC has one mandate, it is to act as a unifying force in this vast, disparate country. Yet the public network built the most divisive figure in the country into a national household name.

Ironically, the event that did the most to unleash Ugly Don was the firing of Dave Hodge, the masterful pro who might have saved Cherry from himself. Hodge, of course, was canned on March 14, 1987, for flipping a pencil in frustration after the CBC made the decision to leave the Flyers-Canadiens broadcast for the news.

Hodge has principles and a spine — but once the servile Ron MacLean crawled into the seat opposite Cherry on Coach’s Corner, Cherry was free to play the bully boy without fear of contradiction.

All MacLean had to do was to get up on his hind legs one time, and say: “Don, you sound like a bigot — stop right there!”

Cherry is like all bullies: face him down once and he’ll back off. Let him bully you and he’ll never stop.

As the final act in this sorry drama, MacLean just had to step up and ooze all over the camera in his smarmy fashion. In what may go down as an all-time low in the history of Canadian television, MacLean (given a week to think about it) rambled on for more than four minutes Saturday night without offering a solitary thought that wasn’t either inane or self-serving.

MacLean wriggled and slithered and tried to justify his own role in Canada’s longest-running soap opera, without success. Ultimately, he insisted, the bromance with Don had to be put aside. “How can you choose principle over friendship? But I had to.”

So after 32 years, MacLean finally located his principles in the closet where he ditched them? And then only because social media lit a fire under his chair? Please.

MacLean was a party to this every step of the way. The man should have been thumbed out along with Cherry, because Coach’s Corner was a two-man farce all the way and the alleged broadcast pro on the set failed to act like a professional.

jacktodd46@yahoo.com

Twitter/jacktodd46

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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