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


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~



  1. April 22, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    […] by Guest Contributor Jehanzeb Dar, originally published at Broken Mystic […]

  2. April 29, 2009 at 5:32 am

    At first, I didn’t think it was fair to call Cherry a racist (I did agree with the xenophobic and ethnocentric tags). I was just watching him praise Georges Laroque on YouTube – this is a player for the Montreal Canadiens that obviously has some African heritage. On the list of Canadians Cherry would like Ovechkin to emulate in celebrating goals, you’ll also see Iglina’s (who has a parent from Nigeria).

    When he talks about “the Canadian way”, however, what way is that? I’m pretty sure it does not include the Chinatowns of Vancouver/Richmond or Toronto. I’m sure it doesn’t include the gays of West Van. I’m sure it doesn’t include the Haitian community of Montreal. What he’s doing, at least to my point of view, is leading toward something based on race.

  3. TheTruth said,

    May 5, 2009 at 2:03 am

    GET OFF HIS BACK. You’re all a bunch of sissy, sensitized pansies…

    It was this super-fem approach to things that almost/practically destroyed the game as we know it.. (Don had a few things to say about that as well)..

    Toughen up, ladies. The big O can fend for himself.

    • Dave said,

      May 17, 2013 at 1:59 am

      Nicely said, misogynist.

  4. sammy shocks said,

    May 5, 2009 at 3:27 am

    If Don Cherry wants to teach everyone about a little canadian hockey culture he’s entitled to do so. Hockey has a long history of culture and pride, until you’ve been in the locker room to see the difference between the two cultures. Whoever wrote this article doesn’t have a clue about hockey in Canada. If you don’t think the Russians bag on Canadians within their own media maybe you should take a trip overseas. Most young Canadian players were born in small towns and have learned to have a little humility within the realm of the rink. Don Cherry is just trying to preserve some of the honor that 99% of Canadian hockey fans have. He’s critical of European style but also has a high expectation of Canadian players and I don’t here you complaining about that.

  5. brokenmystic said,

    May 5, 2009 at 4:04 am

    Wow, people getting pretty defensive about Don Cherry tonight. Penguins fans? 😛

  6. Catman said,

    May 6, 2009 at 6:14 am

    The author should know that Cherry has gone after Canadian Sidney Crosby for the same thing.

    P.S – He is right about soccer 😉

  7. brokenmystic said,

    May 6, 2009 at 3:45 pm


    You totally choose to ignore Don Cherry’s xenophobic remarks about Europeans. I know he made the same comments about Sidney Crosby (it’s even mentioned in the video clip I posted), but you’re ignoring the larger picture. Watch the other clips where he has openly expressed his bigotry towards European players. If he made the same remark about people of color, he most likely would be in big trouble.

    @ sammy shocks,

    Right. In other words, there is only one way to play ice hockey, i.e. the Canadian way? If you don’t play the Canadian way, then um (how does it go?), go back to your country? Sounds like assimilation and ethnocentrism to me.

  8. TheTruth said,

    May 8, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    Brokenmystic.. you’re out of your mind. That’s not what shocks said at all. You’re not as smart as you think you are…. you need to slow your roll.

  9. brokenmystic said,

    May 8, 2009 at 11:59 pm

    Argumentum ad hominem 🙂

  10. May 14, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    “Most young Canadian players were born in small towns and have learned to have a little humility within the realm of the rink.” Do you have statistics to back this up? Lemieux is from Montreal. Gretzky is from Greater Toronto. Sakic is from Burnaby. Iginla is from Edmonton. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but we need to see stats before we can agree with “most”.

    I grew up in a small Canadian town, but all I seemed to hear was arrogant. Canadians looked down on almost everybody who seemed to be slightly different. For example, they called people that looked to be from India, Pakistan or the Middle East “Hindus”. People that appeared Southeast Asian were “Chinks”. I could write all day about Canadian intolerance for Americans. Most of the people I grew up with were loud and pushy. I imagine that these dullards might grunt at this caricature of humility, but that’s all it is. It is a lame caricature.

  11. Roch said,

    June 8, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    This is just completely stupid. I’m a French Canadian, so I obviously don’t love Don Cherry. You have to understand that Don Cherry works for the CBC with is a Canadian and government own society. You can’t hate him for talking about the great Canadian players or promote good Canadian talents.

    As for Ovechkin, as much as I love him I have to agree with M. Cherry. You can’t do that. The NFL banned such celebrations a couple of years ago. Soccer is completly stupid and not very respectful. One day, somebody will really get him…in a certain way, it’s provocation!

    I’m sure everybody who scores a goal in the NHL is happy, but it’s not the best way to show it. In the NHL, the players are adults who are suppose to behave in a respectful way. But if kids in junior hockey league start to imitate Ovechkin, there’s going to be violent repercutions. I played hockey for a long time and it’s a very frustrating game for young people. If a little show-off does this kind of stuff, he might be injured real bad and people can only say that he helped his cause by doing this kind of stuff.

    Ovechkin is a great player but these celebrations are sometimes ridiculous. I love him anyway! In the other hand, I hate Sidney Crosby so much for is diving, faking and crying in front of the officials as for his remarks on other players. This is even more serious than the Ovechkin case. The kid can’t take pressure and his violent slashings or cross-checks behind the head will make him the number 1 prospect for the next ending-career injury by a cheap shot. But that’s another subject.

  12. brokenmystic said,

    June 8, 2009 at 8:37 pm


    Did you miss the part where Don Cherry said European players have “zero heart” and are “cowards”? Cherry also denies the racism that exists in the NHL.

    Do you even play hockey? Many players are imitating Ovechkin, and like I said in my post, there was never this much controversy over celebrations. You can argue that the celebrates provoke aggression, but what does that have to do with Cherry’s xenophobic remarks?

    Oh and calling a post “completely stupid” really makes you look like you know what you’re talking about.

  13. kevin gallagher said,

    January 26, 2010 at 1:09 am

    i used to long for nhl to be shown in the uk. when we got it broadcast a few years ago i was delighted. it was mostly hnic that provided the coverage. at first i liked cherry’s rants, he reminded me of statler and waldorf in the muppets, he was old sarcastic and funny.
    it took me a couple of years to notice he was beating the pro canada anti rest of the world drum. he slates ovechkin for being a show off yet, he wears suits that you wouldn’t let your worst enemy wear. the man is a dinosaur. he is out of touch with reality. maybe hockeycentric canada has lost touch with reality? america and ovechkin are the nhl. if canada cannot get to terms with the mvp of the nhl being non canadian and playing in america, the nhl is doomed.

  14. hockeyplayer777 said,

    March 6, 2010 at 1:34 am


    You write an article that is well written, but within seconds it is very clear that you have never played hockey. Rather than insult you for not having played at a high level, let me clarify some things about the sport so everyone can be on the same page whether you play the sport professionally or have never seen a game. First of all, there is a major difference between North American and European players. In North America, youth hockey is played on a smaller rink. This smaller rink has created a culture of very aggressive, team oriented hockey. The point of the game is to obviously score goals, but goalies as you get older become very good and scoring difficulty increases. Little kid games can get as high as 10 goals a team while comparatively some professional teams on a bad night may not even score once. As a result, offensive players have become more aggressive in their attempts to score goals. In youth hockey a player can easily shoot past a goalie and if you go to a youth game you will see this often. At the pro level, the goalies are so good that the strategy becomes more shoot at the net as hard as possible, sometimes the puck will hit the goalie and squirt out in front of the net, this gives other offensive players who did not shoot the puck a chance to battle for the loose puck and shoot the puck in before the goalie has recovered into proper positioning. This is how the majority of goals are scored in the nhl, battling over rebounds and deflections in front of the net.

    Now, in europe the rinks are larger which gives the puck carrier more room to avoid the other team and get a quality shot. As a result, european players are taught and practice avoiding contact and scoring goals using skill.

    The nhl is played on a smaller North American ice sheet, as a result, the europeans tend to have more skill from all their years of practice on larger ice sheets. The north americans tend to be tougher more physical players who excel by winning battles in the corners and in front of the net. They tend to score ugly or garbage goals.

    In terms of Ovechkin, a goal is not a goal. Fleury and Gretzky have scored goals and celebrated, but celebrating a playoff overtime goal is much different than a goal mid season.

    Ovechkin has led the league in goals the last couple years and scores almost every game. To celebrate your sixty times a year on every goal when a lot of other players might not have ten the entire season?

    It’s like a rich kid bragging about a european vacation in school. It shows you lack an understanding of others around you.

    In terms of Cherry, yes he is aggressive and ethnocentric as you say. However, the only way to win on a small sheet of ice is to battle. Ovechkin has never won a stanley cup and in this last olympics the gold medal game was between the American and Canadian teams because in Vancouver they used a smaller ice sheet for the olympics and the North American teams bullied the european teams by playing a more physical brand of hockey.

    Cherry is not so much insulting Europeans, as he is more keeping alive a Canadian brand of hockey. If you were a parent with your children at a restaurant and you and your children were able to oversee an obnoxious child making a scene, at some point you might explain to your children that acting like that is not the way to behave in public. Hockey is an aggressive sport, especially on the smaller North American ice sheets. Cherry views himself as a guardian to canadian hockey. The culture of the world is becoming more liberal and accepting of cultures, that is great, no one would argue that. However, acceptance and tolerance are practices that should be taught off the ice, not on it. NHL hockey is so fast and so aggressive that being kind to an opponent will get you cut before you know what happened. If you ever watch NHL games, any team can win. The margin for error is so small and the difference in talent is very little. In the playoffs it takes a team to win, over excessive celebration is a selfish individual action that does not help long term team goals. Cherry may be too aggressive for your taste, but his message is a good one for all hockey players. Hockey is about heart, battle, and winning as a team. In the playoffs, teams play harder and goals are harder to score. Ovechkin may light the lamp 60 times this year but failed to do so once against Canada in an elimination game this year. He tried to get to the slot and score a pretty highlight reel goal rather than firing it at the net and allowing his teammates a chance to knock in a rebound. Watch the game, Canada Russia. Watch how the canadians move the puck, pass, shoot hard, battle for position. Most canadian goals involve all 5 guys battling for the puck, making a pass to a teammate, scoring off a pass or a rebound or a tip in. The russian team tried to skate through team Canada as individuals because in europe on the big ice they can do that. Not here. Not in the NHL Playoffs.

    Grit. Determination. Teamwork. Playing through injuries.

    Those are characteristics of NHL championship teams and NHL hall of famers. A lot of talented players have played the sport, it’s the tough ones who battle and make their teammates better that succeed in the long run. Having an individual celebration 50 times a year does not convey that team message. So now that you can understand the sport a little better maybe you can understand where Cherry is coming from. Any new thoughts?

    • brokenmystic said,

      March 24, 2010 at 12:11 am

      I stopped reading your comment after you accused me of “never playing hockey.” I just wrapped up my season for an adult ice hockey league. Do you need me to upload pictures for you?

  15. Tigger said,

    June 3, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    If the author wants to draw this conclusion… “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.”… then I have to ask what Don was doing promoting PK Subban so hard during the playoffs? I think it’s a very large stretch to try to draw Cherry into the ‘racist’ circle, it does a disservice to the rest of the article.

    Don now refers to Ovechkin as the best player in the league, I’m not sure how that fits with the article either.

    “Dictating how NHL players should celebrate their goals isn’t so much about hockey than it is about fascism”

    Really? For the most part I think it’s about humility, when Don points to what he thinks an appropriate response is it usually centres around this point and he uses examples like how Orr would typically respond.

    In general Don could use better terms, but the pride he feels for Canadian hockey and Canadians in general is the heart of the matter, not some xenophobic hatred that lives in fear, he’s a patriot that goes too far sometimes, but to call him a rascist or to paint him as a fascist is over the top in a very similar way.

  16. Chiara said,

    June 4, 2010 at 12:47 am

    Don Cherry has had to revise some of his most exaggerated comments to keep his job at CBC and guesting elsewhere.

    I don’t know if he himself is racist, but the upshot of the collection of his remarks over the years is that he prefers “our guys” ie Anglophone, preferably WASP Canadians, and accepts the same among Americans, with little respect for French Canadians, and less for Europeans. He has been in enough human rights trouble in Canada to respect the request to tone it down.

    Some of his comments about safety, and celebrations are worthwhile, or would be if they weren’t so over the top. When Ron McLean can get him to explain better there is often a core of good sense. He is definitely the type who prefers his own kind though. Look at his favourites of all time: Bobby Orr, and Dougie Gilmour.

  17. yunk said,

    May 17, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    Don Cherry is kind of a national embarassment; imagine your grandpa was given a national audience to rant. But, he gets enough respect in Canada that there’s an uproar whenever the CBC tries to kick him off the air (they’ve tried a few times). I think he’s kind of a douchbag, and clearly xenophobic. Not surprising, given that he’s, what, like ninety now?

    Having said that, he kind of has Ovetchkin’s number. Ovetchkin’s a showboating hotshot, a flashy player who’s taken teams to the playoffs, the olympics, the world juniors, and then invariably flared out. Which is exactly what Cherry accuses him of. He does know a thing or two about hockey.

  18. MNb said,

    September 15, 2011 at 3:37 am

    “Soccer is not very respectful.”
    I love those Americans and Canadians who forget that there is a whole world outside their countries.
    In RotW football – real football, not that silly derivation of rugby – is bigger than your big four, silly.

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