Ron MacLean learned nothing through Don Cherry's firing

Ron MacLean’s career is inextricably linked to Don Cherry, or at least it was until Monday. It perhaps explains why he seemed to turn his first segment without his longstanding partner into the Ron MacLean Sympathy Hour.

MacLean apologized for his role in Cherry’s now-infamous anti-immigrant rant made last Saturday, where he gave his 85-year-old partner a thumbs up shortly after Cherry spoke about why immigrants ought to buy more poppies ahead of Remembrance Day.

Cherry was fired Monday and Sportsnet had the entire week to plan for Saturday’s first intermission without him. Getting MacLean to paint himself as a sympathetic figure was a tone-deaf move.

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“Welcome to our first intermission. You know the story, the Coach’s Corner is no more. And it’s 34 years. Look, we’re all hurting. I’ve collapsed 100 times this week, if not more,” MacLean said.

This is where MacLean’s speech turns into a performance, and an unconvincing one at that.

We get that MacLean is hurting and there’s a reason why the CBC took a shot on a young, up-and-coming 26-year-old when he was paired with Cherry in 1986. But those days are long gone, and a hyperbolic account of MacLean on a fainting coach throughout the week does little for the viewing audience, most of whom have reason to be upset by Cherry’s rampant racism and insensitivity — both last week and through his four decades on television.

“I’ve sat all week long, reflecting, listening to you and I have heard you — I mean you, the viewer. I’ve reflected by listening to my own heart. And they say — I’ve struggled mightily to find the words and I’m not sure I have them even now but they say it’s a good thing because when you can find the words, it’s dead in your heart. And it’s not dead in my heart.”

MacLean contradicts himself from the jump, saying that he listened to the viewers before going onto a soliloquy about how much he misses Cherry. It’s important to note here that Cherry didn’t die, merely his segments at Sportsnet did.

Throughout his address which lasted nearly five minutes, MacLean used his time to evoke sympathy for himself, alluding to his decades-long friendship with Cherry and implored the viewing public to do the same, even if his friend has long stood as hockey’s avatar for racism and xenophobia.

MacLean then apologized for not returning journalist’s calls at the risk of making the story about him, ignoring the first minute of his own plea to the audience, evidently. He then goes into a longstanding explanation as to why he chose principle (read: job security) over friendship and how he gained courage to voice his convictions throughout the ordeal. Again, none of this was requited.

Mercifully, MacLean then told Cherry how much he loves him and ends his speech by honouring what he meant to the game. Surely, he didn’t mean to honour a decades-long legacy of racism, xenophobia, sexism, toxic masculinity, ignorance toward the risk of brain injuries and a climate of unwelcomeness in hockey. In paying homage to Cherry, and to himself, MacLean learned absolutely nothing this week.

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