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

Zach Whitecloud, a defenceman for the Vegas Golden Knights, says he accepts the apology of an American sportscaster who made a derogatory joke about his surname after a Stanley Cup playoff game on Monday night.

Vegas defenceman Zach Whitecloud says ESPN host's gaffe is 'a time for everyone to learn'

Two hockey players fight for the puck.
Vegas Golden Knights' Zach Whitecloud, right, and Edmonton Oilers' Warren Foegele battle for the puck during Game 3 of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff game in Edmonton on Monday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

An NHL player from Manitoba says he accepts the apology of an American sportscaster who made a derogatory joke about his surname after a Stanley Cup playoff game on Monday night.

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

While the highlight of the defenceman's goal was being replayed on ESPN's flagship SportsCenter show, host John Anderson attempted to inject some levity.

"What kind of name is Whitecloud?" Anderson asked.

"Great name if you're a toilet paper."

Regular viewers of sports shows will be familiar with the steady diet of one-liners with which broadcasters often pepper their highlights packages. But in this case, Anderson's attempt at humour fell flat.

Commenters on social media took the 57-year-old anchor to task, some denouncing the quip as a slur that disrespected Whitecloud's background as a member of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, located about 50 kilometres west of Brandon, Man.

Whitecloud addressed the controversy Tuesday in a scrum with reporters posted to 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 that."

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

'People make mistakes,' Whitecloud says

"In our culture, we're raised to be the first ones to reach out and offer our help, so that's why I reached out this morning and wanted to make sure that he understood that."

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

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

Anderson also issued a more public apology earlier in the day to Whitecloud, his team and its fans, essentially blaming the gaffe on having failed to learn about the player's background.

In a statement issued Tuesday evening, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs pointed out that First Nations names are sacred and carry the legacy of ancestors.

AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said she was disheartened Whitecloud had to endure such inappropriate commentary, and called on ESPN and the NHL to do more to address racism within the sport.

Near the end of his media availability on Tuesday, Whitecloud's voice began to break with emotion. He said the controversy wasn't the sort 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.


Stephen Ripley enjoys the finer things in life, including staying up late with a good book and waking up with the sunrise.