In an interview published in Russian a couple of weeks ago, but just this week coming to light, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev went off on his time playing in Toronto and how he didn’t like how coach Mike Babcock used him. For good measure, he added critical commentary about the team’s defense, and then reviewed Toronto’s fan base.
The answer to the multiple-choice question, “Which of those comments were wise?” is obviously, “None of the above.”
However, the one thing he said that seemed to cause the most stir with Maple Leafs commentators was that Hockey Night in Canada’s resident “coach” Don Cherry was a “clown.”
What Zaitsev Said
Specifically, Zaitsev noted, “I’m amused that clowns like Cherry have a very big emphasis in our country as real experts. (What he says) will immediately be on the websites, as if this is a serious person of some kind.”
The defenseman’s statements might have been general comments about what he found different between playing hockey in Russia or playing in Toronto, or they might have been a personal reaction to Cherry’s Coach’s Corner critiques of his play earlier this season.
In one notable rant, Cherry declared that Zaitsev didn’t know what he was doing on the ice, made Jake Muzzin (the best player when he was on the Los Angeles Kings) look bad, and was a forward trying to play defense. That can’t be fun to hear, but it’s typical of the kind of bluster Cherry engages.
So, What Is a Clown?
When I first read Zaitsev’s comments, I had two immediate thoughts. First, a young man had to be really frustrated to go off as he did. And, second, is he right? Is Don Cherry really a clown?
So, I thought I’d have some fun. First, let’s define what a clown is:
A clown is an entertainer who wears funny clothes, usually has a painted face, and makes people laugh by intentionally behaving in silly ways. Most people are familiar with clowns because, as part of a circus, they emerge to fill the space between the main acts and create a diversion so onlookers won’t notice set changes.
Clowns are seldom the main act but provide secondary amusement. In general, clowns engage in a routine of over-the-top buffoonery to make audiences laugh.
In truth, clowns are pretty successful. Most of what we know about clowns grew during the 1950s and 1960s, when clowns were used to entertain children. Those of us who grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons remember Bozo the Clown as a children’s show. The idea of happy clowns worked so well that in 1963 McDonald’s created the loveable Ronald McDonald to be its hamburger icon.
Is Don Cherry a Clown?
When we compare the definition of what a clown is to what Cherry does on Coach’s Corner, there’s no question: Cherry fits the classic definition of what a clown is.
First, does he wear funny clothes? How can anyone doubt the answer?
Second, does Cherry make people laugh by acting silly? Of
I can only answer for myself that I usually enjoy what Cherry does and I think he and partner Ron MacLean have a nicely practiced shtick. MacLean occupies the second chair and gets Cherry going. Then Cherry almost comes out of the screen at viewers – only to be pulled back by MacLean’s verbal leash. Cherry blusters, he rants, and he puffs up.
Third, is Cherry the main
In short, by the classic definition, Cherry is a clown.
Why I Like Don Cherry
That said, I like Cherry and I look forward to listening to him and MacLean during Coach’s Corner. They are playful and extroverted. They don’t engage in nuance. Cherry’s opinions are on display for people to love or hate. His puffery in dress and language is so self-promotionally subjective that no reasonable hockey fan could take it literally.
Far from being critical of the role he plays on Hockey Night in Canada, I enjoy him. And, ironically, I admit I enjoy him for the same reason I have enjoyed the Carolina Hurricanes “Surges,” which of course Cherry hates. For me, it’s the kind of over-the-top entertainment that I think adds to the fun of the game – especially for those who haven’t grown up watching hockey within the cocoon of Canadian hockey culture.
For me, it’s all fun (but, I’m not a player getting roasted either). Yes, Cherry is a clown. He engages in buffoonery and slapstick. He’s good entertainment between the periods of the main event. In fact, I even think he sometimes shares interesting insights.
Then again, sometimes he simply wears funny clothes and makes a
Where Zaitsev Went Wrong
I’m pretty sure Zaitsev didn’t mean “Don Cherry is a clown” in the way I’ve outlined here. In fact, I’m certain he meant that Cherry was foolish and incompetent.
Zaitsev’s problem was that he took Cherry seriously. And, because he took Cherry seriously, he probably reacted out of pride and pain. Now, he’s asked to be traded for “personal reasons.”
I have to believe there’s more to Zaitsev’s personal reasons than Cherry critiquing him on television. But, it’s also too bad when a young hockey player from a different country and culture feels picked on in public by a person he feels has so many people’s attention.
The perfect reaction to Cherry’s antics came from Carolina Hurricanes fans. His recent rivalry with the Hurricanes over their Surge routines is simply silly. He called the Hurricanes players and management “a bunch of jerks.” Hurricanes fans went with it, had t-shirts made, and turned Cherry’s goofy name-calling into a way to bond as fans.
Where We Are Now?
Zaitsev is probably soon to be an ex-Maple Leafs player. There are a lot of hockey reasons to trade a player from one team to another. Sadly, in these days of the salary cap limitations, so many of those trades aren’t really about a player’s on-ice abilities.
Sad, too, that Zaitsev didn’t have a friend on the team who might have convinced him to wear Cherry’s critiques more easily.
I think it’s too late for someone to say, “Listen, Nikita, let it go. No one really takes Don Cherry seriously. He’s a clown.”
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf