An Open Letter to Don Cherry From a Carolina Hurricanes Fan

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 28: Former Boston Bruins coach Don Cherry give an interview during The Sports Museums 17th running of The Tradition sports awards ceremony at TD Garden in Boston on Nov. 28, 2018. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 28: Former Boston Bruins coach Don Cherry give an interview during The Sports Museums 17th running of The Tradition sports awards ceremony at TD Garden in Boston on Nov. 28, 2018. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images) /

Don Cherry, one time critic of the Carolina Hurricanes and the Storm Surge  was fired for divisive comments. Here is my open letter to him.

Two weeks ago, long time legendary sports commentator and Carolina Hurricanes Storm Surge critic Don Cherry was fired by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation after making divisive comments about immigrants and if they respect the military and history of Canada. The decision by CBC to fire him was met with both praise and resistance.

But I felt the need to say something. As the son of immigrants to the United States and as a service-member, Don Cherry’s statements cut deep. There are those defend him and say he said nothing wrong. He himself said that he would have used different words but his intent was innocent. But let’s look at the exact transcript of what he said:

"“Now you go to the small cities and you know, the rows on rows, you people love — 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. These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price. Anyhow, I’m going to run it for you great people and good Canadians that bought a poppy.”"

Here is Sportsnet response to those statements:

Now it is my turn to respond. Here is my open letter to Don Cherry:

Dear Coach Cherry,

You have no idea who I am, so allow me to introduce myself. My name is Omar Abdelgawad, I am the son of immigrants from Egypt who came to the United States to make a better life for themselves and their children. They came for the proverbial “milk and honey” of the west . They came because they wanted a chance to build their own lives. And they did.

They worked hard day and night. They both worked hard so that me and my siblings wouldn’t have to ask for much. They integrated into a society that refused them for having a different religion, for having a different accent, and for having a different skin color. But they did not waver. They continued to push to give me the best opportunities in life.

Then came the events of September the 11th. I was in NYC as a school child when the towers came down. It turned my world upside down. I had a police officer, whom I didn’t even know if I could trust, escort me to school. It was so bad, my parents opted to send me and my siblings to Egypt so I can continue my education in an environment safe from racism and its destructive nature. 

There I grew a new appreciation for all the opportunities and amenities of the west that I had taken for granted.  There I gained the perspective of every immigrant who has come to the US or to Canada. You may believe that they each take the “milk and honey” of the west for granted, but they do not. In fact, they cherish it more than you can imagine. 

I cherished it so much I joined the US Military a few years after returning to the United States where I have since served for the last decade. It’s how I came to be stationed in North Carolina. How I discovered the wonderful sport of Hockey and the Carolina Hurricanes and how I have made it and them a part of my life. 

On one of my deployments I ran with a few Canadian fellas who I shared my love of hockey with. We would talk about our favorite teams, them the Toronto Maple Leafs, myself, the Carolina Hurricanes, and discuss all aspects of the sport. They would speak highly of you and your commentating and thats where my respect for you began. 

They also would tell me all about Canadian traditions and as I sat with them during a Remembrance Day, they told me all about the poppy and its significance in Canadian military history. I even bought a small plastic poppy off of them and wore it with pride. Because they were my brothers and sisters in arms and it was important to them. I still have it on display at my home. 

The next time I heard mention of you was after your criticism of the Carolina Hurricanes post game celebrations, yes the Storm Surge.

Because of the respect I had built for you I disregarded your “bunch of jerks” comments as that of a man who made a decision without knowing all the facts. After all, you must have a different opinion if you had known Hurricanes captain Justin Williams was the mastermind behind the post game antics. 

Then you doubled down. Called us “front-runners”. Said that we were “still not drawing”. That is when my respect for you, built up by your fellow countryfolk began to waver. How can I look up to a man who doesn’t know when to say “I was wrong”?

In the military a leader who cannot accept their own wrongdoing is a toxic leader who has no place in it. That is the kind of leader who continues to make those mistakes and continues to believe that he or she is incapable of wrongdoing and the mission suffers. More importantly, the men and women whom they lead suffer. 

Consistently in your rhetoric you continue to show that you had your mind set and refused to change it no matter how much evidence is provided to you otherwise. On player safety. On European players. I ignored those as simply the strong opinions. After your comments about “you people” “that come here”, your words coach, not mine, I had to tune you out.

That is not what a coach is supposed to do. A coach is not supposed to divide. They are a leader that is supposed to unite their team to a single cause. If you feel that everyone should be wearing a poppy to signify Remembrance Day, you do so by telling everyone the significance of the poppy and why it means so much to you, not by assuming against immigrants “that come here” and tearing them down.

Which is why I am writing you this letter. Perhaps the “other words” you should have used are inclusive ones that show that you care about all Canadians regardless of their ethnicity, religion, race, sexual orientation or gender. I am writing this letter because deep down somewhere there is still a little respect for you and your legacy. 

Alas, who am I, but an American. A random Carolina Hurricanes fan who happens to know who the great Coach Don Cherry is best through acquaintances and a viral video of you criticizing his favorite team. Chances are you may never come across this letter.

If you do I want this letter to be considered an invitation not a criticism. An invitation to do the right thing. To change and be a better individual, a better leader, a better coach. That starts by accepting the wrongdoing and using it as a platform for growth. An inner growth of person and a growth of all those around you.

There is a reason that the decision that affected your time on coach’s corner was met with both praise and resistance. You have built enough social equity to warrant it. May this be an open letter and invitation to those who equally believe no wrongdoing has been done.

In the end, the poppies and Remembrance Day is about bringing people together and respecting one another. It’s about valuing each other and the sacrifices made by those who gave all regardless of where they were from and what they looked like. 

For the great sport of Hockey to grow in Canada and across the world from the US to China to the Middle East, there needs to be a welcoming hand. If it won’t be from those with great legacies like yours Coach Cherry, then whose?

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