Hockey tough guy Don Cherry threw retired NHL players suffering from concussion-related symptoms “under the bus” when he dismissed a lawsuit against the league as a “money grab,” says a former CFL wide receiver.
Bobby Taylor, who now runs the Black Bull Tavern on Queen Street West, recently erected a billboard in front of his business that pulls no punches against the longtime host of Hockey Night in Canada’s Coach’s Corner.
“HNIC Don Cherry ‘money grab’ throws hockey players under the bus,” the sign reads, with its other side making mention of three former NHL enforcers who committed suicide in 2011.
In a Nov. 30, 2013 broadcast, Cherry, a retired hockey pro and former Boston Bruins coach, kicked up a storm against the more than 200 former players who are suing the NHL because they continue to suffer from head injuries received while playing the game.
“I feel sorry for the guys. You know, some of the guys maybe got whacked a little, but it’s a money grab as far as I’m concerned,” Cherry said, only days after the suit was filed in a U.S. federal court in Washington.
A spokesperson for CBC said Cherry declined to be interviewed for the story but was thankful for the opportunity.
Sitting in the Black Bull, Taylor said Cherry should be “ashamed” of his comments and called him a “turncoat.”
“He’s made a lot of money from hockey, and the hockey players, and when he had a chance to give something back to the players by some kind of support in this lawsuit, he chose not to,” Taylor said. “He called those guys down. He called it a money grab. It’s almost like calling them liars, like you didn’t get hurt, you don’t have concussions.”
Taylor himself is in good health, but he recalled countless stories of those close to him who have either died from a brain aneurysm or are still dealing with the effects of concussions suffered decades earlier.
Retired enforcer Kurt Walker, who played with the Maple Leafs in the 1970s and is now considered legally disabled, suffered at least six concussions and said head shots back then were treated differently.
“It was always smell a little smelling salt, how many fingers do I have up, and you went back into the game because there was a lot of peer pressure,” he said, adding that Cherry “had a chance to be a hero and he let us all down.”
The reality is that players aren’t looking for a handout but a medical program for NHL alumni, Walker said.
“If we had a medical plan that we could all pay into, I think that quite honestly there wouldn’t have ever been an NHL class-action suit,” Walker said. “Why do we have to grovel, or be destitute, to the league to just give us a hand?”
The sign outside the Black Bull continues to spark conversation, Taylor said, but so far there’s been nothing further on the topic from Cherry on HNIC.
“What I’m trying to do is just lend some support, like go against Cherry, he shouldn’t be allowed to say that and get away with it,” Taylor said. “It’s funny how I almost can tell he’s a little sheepish about it. He probably regrets what he did say.”