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Manitoba NHLer accepts U.S. sportscaster’s apology for slur that mocked First Nations heritage

An NHL player from Manitoba says he accepts an apology from an American sports player who made an offensive joke about his last name after Monday night’s Stanley Cup playoff game.

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 lead in the best-of-7 second-round series.

While the highlight of the defender’s goal was replayed on ESPN’s flagship Sports center show, host Jon Anderson tried to inject some levity.

“What is Whitecloud’s name?” Anderson asked.

“Great name if you’re toilet paper.”

Regular viewers of sports shows will be familiar with the steady diet of one route that broadcasters often punctuate their highlight packages. But in this case, Anderson’s attempt at humor failed.

Commenters on social media took issue with the 57-year-old anchor, with some denouncing the taunt as an insult that disrespected Whitecloud as a member of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, located about 50 kilometers west of Brandon.

Whitecloud addressed the controversy Tuesday in a rant with reporters posted on the Golden Knights’ website.

“I am proud of my culture, I am proud of where I came from and where I was raised, by whom I was raised,” he said.

“I carry my grandfather’s last name, and nothing makes me prouder than being able to do that.”

After finding out through social media, Whitecloud said he talked to family members and ultimately decided to contact Anderson directly.

“People make mistakes,” Whitecloud says

“In our culture, we’re brought up to be the first to reach out and offer our help, so that’s why I reached out this morning and I wanted to make sure he understood that.”

Whitecloud said Anderson acknowledged what he said was insensitive and apologized, which the player accepted.

“People make mistakes and this is a scenario where not only John but everybody can learn and move forward in a positive direction and obviously try and be better for it,” he said.

Earlier, Anderson also issued a more public apology to Whitecloud, his team and his fans, essentially blaming the gaffe on failing to learn about the player’s background.

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

AMC Grand CEO Kathy Merrick said she was disappointed that Whitecloud had to put up with such inappropriate comments and called on ESPN and the NHL to do more to combat racism in sports.

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

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

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