By Dominique Liboiron
There’s no middle ground in regards to Don Cherry – he provokes strong feelings, to say the least. In Part Four of this series about concussions, we’ll explore how Cherry and other hockey kingpins stand in the way of preventing brain injuries in our national pastime.
On Oct. 6, 2011, Cherry made a controversial statement on Coach’s Corner. That in itself isn’t surprising. Rather, he built a career on them. On the date in question, Cherry went on a rant and he called three former NHL enforcers “pukes” and “hypocrites.” He specifically named Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson.
The Coach’s Corner star said they were wrong to blame their substance abuse problems on fighting. Cherry also refused to believe that fighting could be linked to the deaths of Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard and Wade Belak. He also accused anti-fighters of using the three deaths to further their cause.
Are former enforcers who turn their backs on fighting hypocrites? Maybe, but that would only be one way to look at them. Instead of being hypocrites, a person could also say that they’re people with first-hand experience and credibility. Who knows more about fighting in hockey than them? If they say fighting in hockey can have long-term emotional and physical consequences, their voices carry more weight
Cherry also said they don’t want people making money the same way they once did. This was a bizarre statement for him to make. Actually, bizarre isn’t the right word. Ironic and hypocritical would be more accurate. He ended his rant by saying he isn’t a hypocrite.
But Cherry is a hypocrite. He used the issues of fighting, concussions and substance abuse to further his own cause.
Cherry skilfully manipulated the media and the public. The media, who spread the story, and the public, who consumed it, both gave Cherry what he wanted and what he loves most – attention. If you don’t believe that look at his suits.
And don’t think the rant wasn’t pre-planned. It occurred on the first night of the season and was the talk of the NHL. In a sense, the season started with Cherry.
Behind Cherry’s pre-planned rant is his fear his brand of rough hockey is becoming extinct. He needs fighting and aggressive checking to make money.
His “Rock’Em Sock’Em Hockey” DVDs are the best-selling sports videos in Canada. Over two million have been sold. The series is in its 27th edition and the DVD sells for about $20. Do the math. Cherry must have fighting in the NHL to sell his product.
As a businessman, Cherry’s rant bought him a ton of free advertising.
The controversy is this. The enforcers are saying that fighting in hockey isn’t worth the risk of concussions and possible substance abuse problems brought on by brain injuries. Cherry is saying he doesn’t believe them. To say otherwise would take money out of his pocket. It’s easy for Cherry to say there should be fighting in the game. He doesn’t have to fight and makes money off the players who do.
Other than using fights and brawls to line his own pocket, Cherry’s belief that fighting belongs in the game also sells hockey short. Hockey isn’t a one-trick pony. It has so much more going for it. Breakaways, sudden death overtime, amazing goals, unbelievable saves, stellar defence and so much more make hockey an exciting game.
Grimson, now a lawyer, threatened legal action for Cherry’s defamation. Cherry, ever the businessman, realized that’s its cheaper to admit he was wrong, which he did on the Oct. 15, 2011 episode of Coach’s Corner. He said he made a mistake when he made light of their substance abuse problems.
The technique Cherry employed is a classic manipulation used by people in authority all the time. Rather than face the issue, they deny its gravity and attack the character of the people suffering. Another term for this is victim blaming. Here’s how it works.
Reporter: Don, what do you think about hockey players asking for better protection from concussions?
Hockey dinosaur: In my day, we played through the pain. If a hockey player isn’t willing to sacrifice and be tough, he belongs in Europe where they like ballet and where soccer players dive and pretend they’re hurt.
In this short example, we see the serious and potentially deadly health threats the athletes face aren’t acknowledged. It’s like the threats don’t exist. Instead, the athletes’ character and toughness are questioned and their reputation is smeared. The victim is blamed.
There will be more denial because the hockey world hasn’t accepted the truth or acknowledged the toll of concussions. Dinosaurs like Cherry will speak louder to silence the issue.
Of course, Cherry isn’t alone nor is he entirely to blame. Leaders in the NHL such as Mike Milbury, former head coach of both the Boston Bruins and the New York Islanders, along with Brian Burke, the president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames, are other members of the old boys’ club who are intent on maintaining the status quo regardless of the health impacts to players.
Their argument is that fighting is needed blow off steam. This isn’t an argument. In fact, it sounds like a similar justification that is often used to excuse rape. Fights aren’t a case of boys will be boys. There are many outlets for adult men who are frustrated and fighting doesn’t have to be one of them.
The hockey old boys also say that fights are a way to police the game. In reality, that’s what the referees are for and they won’t suffer concussions in doing so. If the refs can’t stop players from squaring off, the league could impose suspensions. This is the case with Olympic hockey where fighting is unheard of because players know they’ll miss the next game.
The most exciting hockey game of our era saw Canada and the USA play for the gold medal in Vancouver and there wasn’t a single fight and both sides respected their opponent. The best hockey can be played without fighting.
This series of articles will continue with Part Five where we’ll delve deeper into the fascinating subject of concussions.
This is what fighting in sports can lead to – a trip to the hospital. One way to detect brain injuries is with a CT scan, which stands for computed tomography. The images allow doctors to check for skull fractures, brain bleeds, bruises, cranial swelling and more. That being said, it’s not possible to see a concussion with a CT scan. That requires a much more sophisticated and expensive machine known as a Diffusion Tensor Imager (DTI) that can show signals not travelling properly within the brain. The brain’s difficulty to transmit messages is what confirms a person is concussed. A CT scan will show head injuries that could suggest a concussion, but not the concussion itself. Photo by Dominique Liboiron