Manitoba NHL player accepts apology from US sports commentator for slurs that mocked First Nations heritage

A Manitoba NHL player says he accepts an apology from an American sportscaster who made a disparaging joke about his last name after a Stanley Cup playoff game on Monday night.

Zach Whitecloud, 26, had just scored his first playoff goal to help his Vegas Golden Knights to a 5-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers, giving them a 2-1 advantage in their best-of-seven series second-round series.

As the highlight of the defender’s goal was replayed on ESPN’s flagship sports center show, host John Anderson tried to inject levity.

“What kind of name is Whitecloud?” Anderson asked.

“Great name if you’re a toilet paper.”

Regular sports viewers will be familiar with the regular diet of one-liners that broadcasters often spice up their highlight packages with. But in this case, Anderson’s attempt at humor fell flat.

Commenters on social media have taken the 57-year-old anchor to task, with some denouncing the joke as an insult that disrespects Whitecloud’s background as a member of the Dakota Nation of Sioux Valley, located about 50 kilometers away. west of Brandon, Man.

Whitecloud addressed the controversy Tuesday during a scrimmage with reporters posted on the Golden Knights website.

“I’m proud of my culture. I’m proud of where I come from and where I was raised, who I was raised by,” he said.

“I carry my grandfather’s last name and nothing makes me more proud than to be able to do so.”

After learning of the remarks on social media, Whitecloud said he spoke to family members and ultimately decided to contact Anderson directly.

“People make mistakes,” says Whitecloud

“In our culture, we are raised to be the first to reach out and offer our help, which is why I reached out this morning and wanted to make sure he understood that.”

Whitecloud said Anderson acknowledged what he said was insensitive and issued an apology, which the player accepted.

“People make mistakes and it’s a scenario where not just John, but everyone, can learn and move in a positive direction and obviously try to improve,” he said.

Anderson also issued a more public apology earlier today to Whitecloud, his team and his fans, essentially blaming the gaffe on not learning the player’s background.

In a statement released Tuesday evening, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs noted that First Nations names are sacred and carry the heritage of ancestors.

AMC top boss Cathy Merrick said she was heartbroken Whitecloud had to endure such inappropriate comments and called on ESPN and the NHL to do more to address racism in sports.

Towards the end of his media availability on Tuesday, Whitecloud’s voice began to crack with emotion. He said the controversy wasn’t the kind of thing he wanted to address, but he hoped it could be used as a learning experience to ensure similar incidents don’t happen again.

“It’s just a time for everyone to learn,” he said.

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