Don Cherry’s Xenophobic Remarks on Ovechkin Should Not Be Tolerated

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Someone needs to call Don Cherry out on his childish xenophobic rants.  Regarded as a legendary ice hockey analyst and Canadian icon, Don Cherry is known for his often inflammatory and controversial remarks, but it seems that the general public recurrently lets his ethnocentric diatribes slide rather than holding him accountable.

For years, Cherry has been characterizing European players as “cowards” for not understanding the “Canadian way” of hockey.  When asked to comment on why he didn’t have any European players on his junior team, he said, “They call me a racist because I don’t want any Europeans coming to play for my Ice Dogs. If a kid comes over here and becomes a Canadian, I’ll put him on in a minute. But I will not parachute him in so that he can grab the money and run.”  Cherry took similar jabs at the dazzling Czech center, Jaromir Jagr, accusing him of being “everything that’s wrong with the NHL.  He gets hit, he goes down and stays there. Get up!”  In the same interview, Cherry compared Jagr to another hockey legend, Tim Horton, a player who, according to Cherry, would stay on the ice and finish his shift even if “blood would be coming down his face.”  Apparently, Cherry thinks only Canadians know how to play “tough.”

So what’s eating at Don Cherry these days?  See number 8 on the Washington Capitals, a remarkably talented Russian left-winger named Alexander Ovechkin. Actually, to say he is “remarkably talented” is an understatement.  The guy is a magician with the puck and arguably the most exciting player to watch in the NHL today.  Playing in his fourth season, Ovechkin not only led the league in goals, but he has also earned his place in the pantheon of hockey superstars.  Cherry’s beef?  Ovechkin’s goal celebrations are too “over-the-top.”  That’s right.  Ovechkin’s enthusiasm is too much for Cherry’s “Canadian” standards.

On CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, Cherry complained that Ovechkin was acting like “those goofy soccer guys” by “jumping up and down” after scoring goals.  In pure dogmatic fashion, Cherry pointed at the screen and lectured Canadian kids not to act like Ovechkin.  Instead, he tells kids that they should behave the “Canadian way” and act like Joe Thornton, Joe Sakic, Brendan Shanahan, Jarome Iginla, and Bobby Orr (all Canadian-born players).  I didn’t realize the NHL had a “Canadians only” stamp on it.

What’s more disturbing is how ethnocentric and racist Cherry’s presentation is.  He shows clips of dark-skinned international soccer players jubilantly celebrating on the field, calls them “goofs” and says, “Look at this! This is what we want our hockey players to act with?”  Then he shows clips of Ovechkin’s celebrations and yammers, “Look at this!  Does he not remind you of a soccer player?”  For those who missed it, here is the clip:

Cherry receives plenty of criticism for his remarks, but the problem is not just his unapologetic ego, it’s also how the media and the NHL simply brush off his words as if they don’t generate negative and stereotypical perceptions of European players (or any player who is not from North America).  On the CBC Sports website, Cherry is showcased for his opinionated views, no matter how bigoted or how xenophobic, but the line needs to be drawn somewhere.  Cherry undeniably crossed it right here (and it isn’t the first time either, he once went as far as saying Russian players have “zero heart”).  Not holding him accountable is to ignore the weight of the issue altogether.

Around college campuses and street hockey courts, I hear hockey fans debating about Ovechkin’s exuberant celebrations.  I’ve been watching ice hockey since 1997 when the Philadelphia Flyers went to the Stanley Cup finals (and were swept by the Detroit Red Wings), and I’ve never heard this kind of debate before.  It’s no doubt that the “celebration controversy” was generated by Don Cherry’s commentary, but whether people realize it or not, it reinforces this new idea that there is a Canadian/North American “unwritten law” on how hockey players are supposed to celebrate goals.  When Ovechkin scored his 50th goal of the season, Cherry ripped on Ovechkin’s “hot stick” celebration and had these words for the young star, “Have a little class and do it right.”  In other words:  Be Canadian, otherwise you’re “threatening” the “Canadian way” of hockey and aren’t worthy of admiration or praise.  It’s sort of like the Bush administration on ice.

The fact of the matter is that many aspiring hockey players admire Alexander Ovechkin, not because of his nationality, but for his extraordinary display of talent and leadership.  What worries me is how people like Don Cherry want to make Ovechkin’s nationality an issue.  It seems that he wants us to perceive Ovechkin’s style of play as “foreign” and “un-Canadian,” while making us forget the fact that Canadian-born players such as Theoren Fluery, Tiger Williams, Wayne Gretzky, and countless others have also displayed plenty of dramatic celebrations in the past.

Dictating how NHL players should celebrate their goals isn’t so much about hockey than it is about fascism.  Calling all European players “cowards,” accusing them of having no “heart,” and then comparing them with “goofy” dark-skinned soccer players is not about hockey either.  It’s called racism.  If Don Cherry is not held accountable, then what’s to stop him and other sports commentators from making racially charged statements about athletes outside of North America?  What’s to stop the xenophobia and ethnocentrism from spilling out on the ice?  Everyone remembers what happened to that other Don (Imus), right?

It’s funny because amidst all this controversy, whether its Cherry yapping on about the “Canadian” way of hockey or our generation’s hockey fans engaging in superficial debates about goal celebrations, a simple truth lies beneath it all:  Alexander Ovechkin is one of the greatest players to have ever played the game.

Great athletes don’t always have to be North American.

~Broken Mystic~

No Street Hockey at the Islamic Games?

It really doesn’t surprise me that there won’t be any street hockey matches for the 2009 Islamic Games in New Jersey.  What can I say, most Muslims just don’t seem to play hockey at all.  This is something I’ve been noticing all of my life.  Whenever I go to my cousins’ house, they’re up for playing either basketball, soccer, football, and of course, cricket.  Others are into baseball.  Or tennis.  Or badminton.  Or volleyball.  But hockey?  Forget about it.

I’m one of the coordinators for my Mosque’s Youth Club and we usually play basketball every Sunday because that’s what most of the kids want to play.  I always join in even though my shot accuracy is terrible, lol.  I’ll play just about any sport, even if I’m not very good at it, but roller hockey is my favorite sport.  I remember the look on one of the Youth coordinator’s face when my Muslim friend and I told him that we were going to play hockey after Jummah prayer.  It was one of those looks that your fellow Muslim brother/sister gives you before telling you something is haram.  But he didn’t say it was haram, alhamdullilah lol :)

I Love roller hockey.  I Love skating around and turning; I Love stick-handling, passing, and deking out the goalie.  The fast pace of the game is just so much fun.  In my feeble attempts to attract my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters to hockey, I tell them it’s not that different from soccer!  You know, instead of kicking a ball into a net, you’re hitting it with a stick.  And you’re on roller blades.  Okay, maybe they’re not completely alike, but it’s still a fun sport!

Anyway, my friends and I used to play roller hockey almost every single day when we were in high school.  After we’d get home from school, we would go out to the tennis court and play hockey.  About two months ago, we started to play hockey again after about three or four years!  Now, we play at least two times a week.  It’s really great to be playing again, especially when I’m playing with my friends.  We don’t play a rough game — we never have — because we know we would like to wake up the next morning with our arms and legs intact.  I never played ice hockey, even though I’ve ice skated a lot before.  My brother played for a league and it was quite physical, which is one of the reasons I didn’t want to play it.  I always like to joke that I’m better than my brother, but in all honesty, he’s extremely talented, masha’Allah.  He led his league in points and goals, and he scored the game-winning goal to win his team the championship.

As for the NHL, some of my friends are still really into it, but I can’t get into it anymore.  None of my favorite players are playing anymore.  Even my playing style today still has influences of Eric Lindros and John Leclair, who were both my favorite players.  Recently, however, my brother told me about this fellow playing for the Washington Capitals:  Alexander Ovechkin.  I heard people talking about him so much that I finally decided to look him up on YouTube.  And wow, I think I’m going to start watching NHL games just to see him play.  Watch the video above and check out the goal he scores at 2:36.  It’s insane!  It actually reminds me of one of my “memorable” hockey moments, lol.

Ok, true story.  I played for a roller hockey league back in high school.  My dad, with his Pakistani mustache, was our team’s coach believe it or not, and my brother and I played on the same line together.  We won two championships, which my dad likes to attribute to himself.  “See what happens when you listen to me,” he says (and still says).   Anyway, so it was a tie game and it was taking forever for either team to score.  I believe it was in the third period, but our team shot the ball down in the other team’s end.  I started to skate really fast towards the ball, which was on the far right side of the net.  I honestly don’t know what I was thinking, lol.  There was no angle at the net at all, and yet I was charging for the ball.  As I got closer, I was just like, “oh God, this is going to suck.”  Because I knew I was going to wipe out since I’m horrible at stopping when I’m going that fast!  So, since I figured I was going to fall to the ground, I decided I was just going to shoot the ball towards the net.  Here goes:  3, 2, 1…

WACK!  I took a swing at the ball, cinematically flew to the ground, and slammed into the boards.  Yep, I made myself look like an idiot.  As my teammate came to help me get to my feet, he had this amazed look on his face.  And in his suburban accent, he was like, “Awh man, that was an awesome goal!  That was sick!”  I was just like, huh?!  It went in?!  But how?!  I had like no angle at all!  Apparently I did!  I admit though, I got lucky with that one.  I think my shot accuracy is pretty darn good, but hey, not that good!  So yeah, Ovechkin’s goal reminded me of that.

Anyway, it doesn’t bother me that there aren’t any street hockey tournaments at the Islamic Games, it just makes me wonder if Muslim interests in basketball and soccer are socialized.  It’s not just Muslims, I’ve also noticed non-Muslim Middle-Easterners and South Asians who are into basketball and soccer too, but I never see them playing hockey.  Maybe it’s cultural?  Or maybe if I go to Canada, I’ll see more Muslims into hockey (I was in Canada recently, but not long enough to see whether or not Muslims play hockey).

Oh well, I’m still excited about the Islamic Games.  I’m excited about being a coach.  I’ll wear my suit and tie and yell from the sidelines like Al Pacino :P

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