Turning My Coat For Don Cherry

By now, I'm sure you've all heard about Don Cherry's rant on Hockey Night in Canada on opening night. On his staple "Coach's Corner" segment between the first and second periods of the Leafs and Habs season opener, Cherry ripped into the apparent "turncoats" that have recently come out, in some form or another, against fighting in the league, not coincidentally following the deaths of three active players known more for their fisticuffs than their hockey skills.

Any death in our sport, whether it's suicidal, accidental, homicidal, plane related, or what have you, is tragic. These three players may have had their demons, and some might say that, if the cause of death was indeed suicide for even one of them, they took the easy way out, but that shouldn't tarnish their memory as part of the NHL family. No matter what you thought of Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard, or Wade Belak on the ice, they are already sorely missed in the community.

For many, their deaths have affected them to the point where they are now starting to come out against the way these players made their living -- fighting. I haven't conducted any studies, talked to any players, and as Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain would say, I don't have any facts to back this up, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the guy who making $500,000 a year (if he's lucky) and takes punches to the face for a living likely isn't as well off post-career as the likes of team owners Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

The people who are coming out against fighting aren't necessarily doing it to push their agendas. They're doing it because there's a clear problem  with the fact that, for seemingly no reason, certain players jobs in the NHL depend on how well they can take a punch in absolutely meaningless situations, and because the players that do this face a higher risk of having a shitty life when they retire -- which usually happens at a much earlier age than their non-fighting counterparts anyway.

With the Shanhammer running wild on the NHL in recent weeks, the fighting discussion has taken a backseat to headshots -- accidental or not. But I have to say, in 2011, it's a little mind-boggling when you really think about it. Many teams have players who's sole purpose is to stage a fight with another player who's only purpose is also to fight. These interactions provide absolutely nothing of value to their teams, other than a rise out of the crowd which may or may not

But without offering any insight or argument as to why fighting needs to stay in the game, or how it positively affects the lives of any of these players, Cherry lambasted anyone and everyone who wants a better life for some of these guys. You can watch the video at the Puck Daddy link above, but here's a transcript of what he said:

"Is that ridiculous? I'll tell you one thing there. You people that are against fighting you should be ashamed of yourself. You took advantage of that to make your point on fighting. You should be ashamed of yourself for doing something like that.

I did a little research. Since 1999, there's been eight guys commit suicide and not one of them was a fighter. And when I played, I remember four guys commit the suicide. Not one of them was a fighter. But you jumped on this with both feet. You should've been ashamed of yourself.

But the ones that I am really disgusted with -- and I hate to say this when the kids are listening -- with Georges Laraque said about ... but the bunch of pukes that fought before: Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson. 'Oh, they reason that  they're drinking drugs and alcoholic because they fight.' You turncoats. You hypocrites. It's one thing I'm not, it's a hypocrite.

You guys ... you were fighters and now you don't want guys that make the same living you did."

Nevermind his even more ridiculous rant on the Shanhammer's crackdown on dirty and unnecessary headshots, or the fact that he'd rather see a player carried off a stretcher than Jay Rosehill let up on a big hit.

With the Shanhammer running wild on the NHL in recent weeks, the fighting discussion has taken a backseat to these headshots. But in today's NHL, it's a little mind-boggling that we still have to tolerate pointless and staged fighting. Many teams have players who's sole purpose is to stage a fight with another player who's only purpose is also to fight. These interactions provide absolutely nothing of value to their teams, other than a rise out of the crowd which may or may not actually have an affect on the game on the ice, and a warm seat on the bench for the better part of 55 minutes off the clock.

The NHL "fighter" is already a dying breed, thanks to general managers and coaches who are finally realizing that they're completely unnecessary, and while it may lead to a few shattered dreams for players who otherwise wouldn't make the NHL, for many of them, it's likely a blessing in disguise. It obviously takes a little more than a few punches to the head to become an alcoholic or drug user, or even worse, kill yourself, but I'd venture a guess and say that it certainly doesn't help.

Don't believe me? Take it from a man who's been there himself and made a living out of busting heads (one that isn't Georges Laraque, anyway). Chris Nilan (who conveniently works for the newly rebranded TSN Radio 990) had the following to say via twitter -- again, thanks to Puck Daddy for the transcript:


"Let's get it straight right here and now. I never said that players who were fighters were prone to alcoholism and drug abuse. #misinformed. I guess those who can't play coach, or just had a show called coaches corner. Pretty sad he has to say that to get ratings. Guess he see's the writing on the wall with CBC losing market share to Bell and TSN."

The obvious argument here is that Cherry is indeed acting like a douche to get ratings for a dying, publically funded network. In the span of a year, TSN has not only taken market share from CBC, but also radio rights, TV rights, even experts and analysts. And I wouldn't be surprised to see them take the Saturday night rights away from them the next time their contract is up either. But regardless of what enables Nilan's anger, it's more than valid.

Cherry is short-sighted, out-of-date, and ignorant on this issue. It doesn't take a player or a coach to realize that this doesn't need to happen. We don't need to have this discussion. If you like seeing people beat the crap out of each other, there are plenty of other sports and venues to satisfy your blood lust. I don't watch hockey for the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em candidates or the fights, as fun as they can be on occasion, I watch for the finesse, speed, skill, and intensity of the need breed of player, and I'd imagine that anyone who isn't a senile septuagenarian who probably agree with me. 

The headshots, the turn-bucklings, the fights... all of these needless actions in our sport has left me with a sour taste in my mouth.  It's not about the "sissyfication" of hockey, or even taking out hits. It's about protecting players, and it's about an utter lack of respect that has plagued the sport and the players since the lockout, if not longer. Staged fights are an insult to those that go to NHL arenas every night, both to play hockey and to spectate. I don't want to see Shawn Thornton fight Eric Boulton or Jody Shelley for the umpteenth time, or George Parros raising fisticuffs with David Koci or Paul Bisonette five times a year. It doesn't add anything to my hockey-watching experience.

I used to tolerate fighting in the NHL. Even now, watching a good fight can be pretty satisfying, even if you're Brad Winchester. But after this summer, and after a lot of self-searching, it's pretty obvious to me that the sport would be better off if it did away with this senseless act of violence. Cut the 12th forward from every team. Throw out and automatically suspend any player who fights. Launch campaigns to discourage fighting at lower levels of hockey. It doesn't matter anymore. Whether anyone prior to this past summer's deaths in hockey were related to fighting or not, now they are. It may be a freak coincidence that we had three of them in such a short spans, but it happened, and it didn't need to. More importantly, it shouldn't have to happen again.

As far as Don Cherry and fighting are concerned. I'm turning my coat inside out. I'm rebelling, and I'm standing up against bullies like everyone's favorite fail of a coach and their campaign to continue allowing people hurt themselves in the context of a fight, for the warped enjoyment of the few. But hey, if Don Cherry, Mike Milbury, or anyone else who's impaired enough to defend this savage practice could get over their own senility for a minute and actually present a coherent and compelling argument in the favor of fighting, instead of flinging their feces at the people who don't agree with them, maybe we wouldn't have to be "turncoats".

Enough is enough. It's not even about dying players anymore, it's about what's good for the sport and common sense, something that Cherry painfully hasn't had for decades. It's time to have a serious discussion about fighting, and this barely coherent rant from one of the sport's dinosaur's is clear evidence of that.


Jason Pietroniro's picture

Sick. All of it. Great job Prax.

Patrick Storto's picture

Funny thing is, Don Cherry is pushing his own agenda too, so calling out other people for supposedly having agendas is comical.

Another issue with last night is Cherry doesn't even have his facts straight on who has said what. Nilan has already come out defending himself and this morning on a Toronto radio station suggested that Cherry owed him a public apology on this weekend's edition of Coach's Corner.

But the one that really boggles my mind is attacking Stu Grimson, who in an article written by Mike Zeisberger on September 4th had this to say about the three deaths:

- "I’ve seen those reports and, frankly, I think they’ve been very inappropriate. All three of these incidents are individual. Call them random. It’s a coincidence all three were enforcers. There are many more logical reasons against fighting that people could bring up. This should be about Wade’s memory, not about stretching to come to conclusions about the role he filled."

That's not exactly the picture Don Cherry painted of him last night when threw him under the bus and called him a "puke."

I like to look at Don Cherry like he's a WWE character. He can cut some pretty entertaining promos, but at the end of the day, most people don't take him seriously.

George Prax's picture

"Well lemme tell you somethin brother. All these guys, comin out here and runnin their mouths about fighting, they're little pukes brother. All the Cherrymaniacs know that when you run into the 24-inch pythons of a fighter, you gotta fight. So WHATCHU GONNA DO WHEN THE ENFORCERS RUN WILD ON YOU."

Rene J Roy's picture

Until last night i loved Cherry, but he was Sour Grapes after CC. Listen, i dont think he did any research, and its obvious he is way out on this one, but why is nobody calling him out on the fact that he blamed Max Pacioretty for getting his own neck broken? Theres so much furor over the fighting commentary that he basically gets away with saying Pacioretty got what he deserved because he shoved Chara in the game before? We all know that Chara did what he did because he is a tool, but to suggest that Max deserved it sort of lends itself to a conflict with the ruling of the league, not to mention a total lack of common friggin sense.

George Prax's picture

There's only so many things we can call him out on Tongue. I tend to try and ignore him, but once in a while he'll pull shit like this and we don't have a choice. I can tolerate his ridiculous hockey arguments because he's there for shock value, but when he throws guys like Stu Grimson and Chris Nilan under the bus for literally no reason, you have to draw the line. Apparently on the radio today he said that he wouldn't apologize. The guy needs to go away once and for all.

John Duba's picture

How is fighting in hockey and diffrent then What we use to see in Boxing (olympic sport) and what we currently see in the UFC? is it ok for them to fight b/c that is what their leagues are all about? If the NHL allowed fighting more then Shanahan would not have a job since the players would police them selves and you would not see nearly as many hits from behind as you do today. After the lockout the NHL made changes to make the game faster which made it more dangerous to play since the only way to stop a player now to is to check him off the puck.
They wanted to make it easier for scorer's but i don't see anyone touching The Great One's records anytime soon. All the changes to the game have only made it more dangerous to the players not safer. as far as that Cherry guy goes he gets a little to worked up for my taste reminds me of Sean Avery. He is in your face but no one should really be paying any attention to him.

George Prax's picture

Well, keep in mind that not only are fighters in boxing and MMA fully trained in combat skills, but they also have plenty of protection to deter a lot of the damage their own fists can do, most importantly in the form of gloves. In hockey, player equipment only makes it worse for both parties. So that's one thing. But regardless of that, a punch to the face in any of these sports can be devastating for the people involved, especially long term, so it might be moot. What it boils down to is, yes, the fact that boxing and MMA are intended as combat sports, and hockey isn't. We tune in for physical play, in part, but if you're tuning in to see 2 guys who can't actually play the sport fight each other, then you should probably be watching something else.

I think I need to clear up again that i'm not against a player fighting in the heat of the moment, after a dirty hit or anything like that, but Shawn Thornton vs. Jody Shelley adds absolutely nothing to the game. We're in a day and age where just about every single player in the league is in peak physical condition, something that couldn't have been said in the days of the Great One. People who can actually play hockey these days should have no trouble fighting the people who go after their teammates. There's no reason for teams to reserve that 12th spot for a guy who barely plays and doesn't have an effect on his team to begin with.

And I agree about Cherry, I generally don't pay attention to him anymore, but when he goes after people like Chris Nilan and Stu Grimson, that's where I draw the line. Even Georges Laraque, who I don't particularly like.

Chuck Gaston Jr's picture

For me, fighting will always be a part of the game. When the emotions run high, players lash out. The thing is, this never was a problem. Guys fought, gave one another a nod, and went to the box. Now it has become a stage show. There is no reason for two guys to drop the gloves off of the opening faceoff.
Cherry made a decent point at a very ill advised time, but then ruined it with his typical know it all BS and screw the world ignorance.