Sports Broadcaster Resigns After Immigrant Comments

Live TV can be a cruel mistress. While, yes, being on live television as a newscaster or broadcast commentator can be exhilarating, there are plenty of opportunities to create a PR fiasco or to torpedo your career. There have been many notable on-air collapses or implosions over the years, but few will sting as much to loyal Canadian hockey fans as the recent resignation of longtime announcer Don Cherry.

According to several sports media reports, Cherry will “no longer appear” on Canada’s number one sports network, Sportsnet, or the popular “Hockey Night in Canada” program. This announcement comes after Cherry resigned in the midst of a public relations dustup after he was heard making what the network described as “divisive” remarks about immigrants.

During the broadcast, in the middle of his Coach’s Corner segment, Cherry went on what has been described as “a bit of a rant” when discussing people he assumed to be immigrants choosing not to wear a red poppy pin to honor Canadian soldiers on Remembrance Day. Cherry said, in part: “You people … you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that… These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”

While some might have supported his comments and, indeed, did so on social media, Cherry did not receive the same support from the network. Sportsnet President Bart Yabsley argued that sports should bring people together, saying the following in a prepared statement: “During the broadcast, (Cherry) made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for. It has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down…”

The stance put not only Cherry, but also the network, in a tough PR position. Cherry is a beloved Canadian sports figure, especially among hockey fans. So much so, that the Canadian Broadcast Standards website was overwhelmed with complaints about Cherry’s dismissal, shutting the site down.

Some, including Yabsley, have called Cherry “synonymous with hockey,” but that status did not save the 85-year-old former coach and broadcaster. Given public reaction, the decision to force Cherry out over the comments may come back to haunt Sportsnet, but, at this point, the company is sticking to its decision. Cherry, meanwhile, has not released a statement related to either the resignation or the subsequent public outcry.

One thing is clear, if Sportsnet did not prepare for the possible consequences in the court of public opinion, the company could have its own PR issue coming in the near future.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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