Recall that a few years back, the loathsome Rob Ford was elected mayor of Toronto. He was loathsome, that is, to all the people who counted, not the voters. At his swearing-in as mayor, he invited Don Cherry to be on hand. Doubly loathsome, except to the voters.
Rob Ford’s rise – followed later by Brexit and Donald Trump – was identified as the malign fruit of many things, usually said to reflect the racism, xenophobia or assorted hatreds of the voters. There was much about Ford that was indefensible, and the voters knew that. What attracted them was his sincerity.
With Ford, who you got was what you saw. He spoke his mind. He was not the product of consultants and media managers and spin doctors. He was not a product at all. He was a man, a flawed man, in the flesh. A very flawed man very much in the flesh, sweating and shouting and red-faced.
Cherry was much the same, without the personal indiscipline and in much better clothes. For 39 years (!), Grapes was the only place in the entirety of sports television where sincere things were always said. Blame politicians all you like for their insincerity; they have got nothing on athletes, whose cliché-ridden interviews and potted answers make even the most robotic corporate communications flack seem like a loose cannon. Grapes spoke his mind and earned admirers for doing so.
One didn’t have agree with Cherry to appreciate him. On the drum he beat the loudest and longest – celebrating fighting in hockey – I didn’t.
He will be replaced in the first intermission by someone who will be wholly interchangeable with every other sports commentator, saying entirely predictable things in an entire predictable way in an entirely predictable suit. It won’t much matter if he believes what he says or not; there will always be another just like him if a replacement is needed.
So, count me out of those piling on Don now that his firing – expected for 38-and-a-half of those 39 years – has been accomplished. Count me out of those preening with faux outrage and sneering at Cherry’s lack of sophistication and working class background. Count me out of those who speak about immigrants like my family as though we are such delicate flowers that the blustery protests of Cherry about poppies supposedly wounds us to the core.
For me, I want to say thank you to a great Canadian who brought attention to a lot of ordinary Canadians who are otherwise overlooked. Or when noticed at all, are disdained. The sort, for example, who, like Grapes, shop at Fabricland. Yes, Fabricland, as I explain here.
Let me add, then, three observations about the Cherry firing – the comic, the cowardly, and the CBC.
First, the unintentionally comic. It was breathlessly reported on Monday that the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council was so “overwhelmed” with complaints about Saturday’s Coach’s Corner that it pleaded with the public not to file any more. So, it was an unusually lively time over at CBSC, not to be confused with the CBSA, the trusty customs officials who are never overwhelmed, no matter what the volume. Perhaps the CBSC could learn from the spiffy new electronic kiosks the CBSA has installed in airports to speed things along.
In any case, of course the CBSC got more complaints about Grapes than they had before. People actually watch him. Consider, if you will, if one of the four anchors the CBC employs to replace Peter Mansbridge on The National had said something outrageous. How would anybody know?
Can anyone name two of the four? I can’t, and consider it a professional obligation to follow the news. Yes, perhaps if someone had said something, a few complaints would have trickled in to the CBSC.
By the way, how do people know to complain to the CBSC? I mean, do ordinary folk watch Coach’s Corner, get aggravated by Grapes and know to fire off a missive to the CBSC? It seems a bit, as Cherry might put it, whiny, no?
Perhaps there was a little bit of organization; perhaps the CBSC thought it might benefit from a little moment in the sun? Or perhaps not, and legions of Canadians – but not likely from the Legion Hall – truly got in touch to complain. For me, I find it a challenge enough to coordinate the multiple remotes in order to watch television, let alone know how to complain about what I watch.