Ron MacLean says he doesn't believe former co-host Don Cherry is racist

EDMONTON — Days after addressing Don Cherry's dismissal during a "Hockey Night in Canada" broadcast, sports broadcaster Ron MacLean said that he doesn't believe his former co-host is racist.

MacLean, the long-time co-host of "Coach's Corner" with Cherry, was in Edmonton Tuesday to receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at the University of Alberta.

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Before receiving the degree, MacLean was asked by a reporter whether he thinks Cherry is racist.

"What I know is that we made the mistake ... I mean, no," he said. "Don, I think, has started to come around ... he knows we projected an idea, an attitude or a behaviour on someone. He knows, I feel like in what I've listened to, he's trying now to admit to that.

"If I have one regret, it's that when I apologized on the Sunday night, I used Don's name and, if I am sitting at home watching it, that would hurt me. That might have created some resolve in Don not to apologize."

Sportsnet fired Cherry on Nov. 11, two days after controversial on-air comments during "Coach's Corner."

The 85-year-old broadcaster made remarks that many felt were critical of immigrants for not wearing Remembrance Day poppies.

Cherry used the phrase, "You people," during the segment but later denied that he was singling out visible minorities.

"You people that come here, whatever it is, 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," Cherry said on the segment. "These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price."

In Saturday's address, MacLean said "Coach's Corner" is no more.

"We are all hurting. I have collapsed 100 times this week, if not more," he said during the broadcast. "We are all disappointed."

MacLean said that he has received an email from Cherry since he spoke out Saturday.

"He's upset, but we're all raw," MacLean said Tuesday in Edmonton. "As I said on the TV, I love Don. It doesn't sound like I would be there for Don, but I am.

"We're just going through one of the most difficult situations because, as I said, we each made our personal decisions."

MacLean said he will carry on with Sportsnet.

"I can't back down from the difficulty, I was very keen to apologize, I felt very much the need to continue to represent the show," he said. "We all love hockey, we love Don, we love hockey, we love the bridge-building aspects of our game. We're caught in a situation — it needed to be addressed."

In his address to U of A graduates, MacLean used the controversy as a teaching moment.

"My job is to teach you kids — you young women and men — how to stay out of trouble," he said. "This ought to be good."

MacLean, who grew up in Red Deer, Alta., said he's struggled to find words in the past 10 days.

"I've looked to certain people to influence my opinions," he said. "This week, I've talked to First Nations chiefs, people of colour, women.

"While you think for yourself ... please listen to your friends, please listen to others and it will help to imbue you going forward."

Other honorary degree recipients during this fall's convocation ceremonies include minority language rights advocate Claudette Tardif and award-winning poet Alice Major.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2019.

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