Fans tuning in to Hockey Night in Canada’s most-watched segment, Coach’s Corner, had a surprise in store last Saturday. Instead of hearing Don Cherry drone on about seamless glass and insult European-born players, they heard seven minutes of non-stop political jostling about the war in Iraq.
Hockey was not mentioned during the show, which saw a bombastic Cherry arguing with usually timid co-host Ron MacLean about Canada’s involvement in the conflict.
“I hate to see them go it alone. We have a country that comes to our rescue, and we’re just riding their coat-tails,” said Cherry, who chose to wear a tie adorned with American colours.
He criticized the government’s decision to stay out of the war and continued to show support for “our American friends.”
Cherry implied Canadian troops are in Afghanistan to avoid the fighting in Iraq and then dealt a low blow to CBC News anchor Peter Mansbridge by saying, “Oh, Peter’ll have something to say. He’ll be neutral.”
MacLean put up a fight, calling Cherry’s comments “ridiculous,” and refused to change the topic, leaving viewers questioning whether they were watching Hockey Night in Canada or CNN. If I wanted to see another war debate, I would have tuned into al-Jazeera.
Many people, including myself, watch sports to escape the bleak reality of war and the sometimes mind-numbing side effects of politics. When these issues penetrate sports, they ruin our only means of escape. There should be no place for political debates in sports broadcasts.
Cherry is no diplomat and MacLean is not Aaron Brown. The debate on HNIC was inappropriate, not because of the views being voiced, but the forum where it was happening.
The controversial conflict in Iraq has been debated everywhere, and a popular hockey show has no business regurgitating what every legitimate news show has been discussing for the past year.
The response from CBC was swift.
“Hockey Night in Canada is not the forum for the war in Iraq,” said CBC spokesperson Ruth-Ellen Soles to the Toronto Star.
“The producer and the head of the department are dealing with it.”
It was a relief to hear Cherry and MacLean discussing hockey during their next broadcast. A brawl between the St. Louis Blues and the Detroit Red Wings is more appropriate for Coach’s Corner than the clash between Bush and Saddam.