SportsCenter anchor John Anderson was criticized for a racist joke he made about Vegas Golden Knights hockey player Zach Whitecloud when he scored his first goal of the season.
When Whitecloud—a defenseman—came into possession of the puck and scored the goal, Anderson diminished his efforts and his humanity by mocking his last name by comparing it to toilet paper.
Whitecloud is a First Nations citizen and the first member of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation of Manitoba, Canada to play in the NHL. He is one of only four current NHL players who identify as Indigenous North American.
Indigenous ally and award winning actor Mark Ruffalo shared the moment on Twitter.
The MCU star tweeted:
"Open and outward racism goes unchecked toward our Indigenous family in the USA & normalized on [ESPN] by people like announcer John Anderson who viciously mocks pro hockey player [Zach Whitecloud]’s name."
"This kind of behavior should be punished & called out for the racism it is."
After his ignorance was pointed out, Anderson wanted to apologize to Whitecloud.
Many Indigenous family and clan names were lost because of assimilation efforts in the United States and Canada. For Whitecloud's ancestors to be able to pass on their name to future generations is a sign of survival and perseverance.
And while Anderson may have just tried to be funny, his comment was still racist. Racism doesn't require malice—only ignorance.
"This is totally on me, and I sincerely apologize to Zach, the Golden Knights, their fans, and everyone else for what I said."
"It’s my job to be prepared and know the backgrounds of the players and I blew it."
Whitecloud gracefully navigated the situation and saw the racist incident as a learning opportunity for everyone.
You can listen to Whitecloud's full statement about the incident here:
He told the press:
"I think it was an attempt at humor that came out as being obviously insensitive, and he acknowledges that. He understands that it was wrong to say."
"I wanted to make sure he knew that I accepted his apology. People make mistakes, and this is a scenario where not just John but everyone can learn from and move forward in a positive direction and try to be better for."
Whitecloud shared the origin of his name.
"I’m proud of my culture. I’m proud of where I come from and where I was raised, who I was raised by."
"I carry my grandfather’s last name, and nothing makes me more proud than to be able to do that."
He added that he reached out to Anderson the morning after the on-air incident.
"In our culture, we were raised to be the first ones to reach out and offer help, so that’s why I reached out to John this morning."
People online offered support and accolades, especially for how well Whitecloud handled the situation, turning it into a teachable moment.
Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) board member Pauly Daniel Denetclaw III (Diné) reminded people BIPOC face racism born of ignorance and malice in the workplace all the time.
This is one of those rare situations where the person at fault publicly recognized and owned their mistake without excuses or diminishing the mistake by apologizing to the people who "might have been offended."
But as many pointed out, racist microaggressions still take an emotional toll on the target.
Lost in this was the celebration of Whitecloud scoring a goal—a rare feat for most defensemen—in the playoffs. That's a moment Zach Whitecloud won't get back.
Congratulations on your first playoff goal of this year Zach!