This week, the University of Georgia's football team declined the White House's invitation to a ceremony that would have honored the football championship the team won in January. They claimed the selected date (June 12) just didn't work schedule-wise, though they offered no specifics as to why that might be, nor was there any apparent effort invested in trying to find an alternate date. We thought about writing up this news earlier this week, but decided we had very little to say about it, other than: (1) It's a shame that even something that used to bring people together has now become hyper-politicized, and (2) we guess that from now on, white players from baseball teams and Southern football teams will visit when a Republican is in the White House and basketball teams, non-Southern football teams, and Latinos from baseball teams will visit when the president's a Democrat.
That story, at least for us, serves as backdrop for the actual item we want to write about here. ESPN, the undisputed king of sports news, encourages its anchors to be witty and breezy and pop-culture-y as they read the sports news. That's basically been their brand since they first set up shop 40 years ago, something of a blend of sports news and MTV. And so it is that one of the network's more prominent anchors, John Anderson, was doing the highlights on Monday and issued forth with this riff on Las Vegas Golden Knights player Zach Whitecloud: "What kind of name is Whitecloud? A great name if you're a toilet paper."
One has to presume that if Anderson had even a moment to think about it, as opposed to being under the bright lights and on the camera (and thus on the clock), he would have realized that Whitecloud must be a First Nations name. And indeed it is; Zach Whitecloud is, in fact, the first member of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation to play in the NHL.
At that point, Whitecloud could probably have had Anderson's job. Anderson may be a prominent ESPN anchor, but the network does not love controversy, and does not want to be accused of whitewashing, since it's got a lot of minority viewers. Plenty of sports media personalities have had their careers ended by one slip-up; some of those were entirely justified because they revealed something important about the person who made them, while others were really just about putting out PR fires.
Whitecloud did not go after Anderson, however, or otherwise pitch a fit. Here was his response:
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...
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. 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.
Anderson, for his part, responded: "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."
Very, very classy on the part of Whitecloud, and surely more productive than blasting ESPN/Anderson would have been. This is not to say that people are not sometimes justified in taking a strong and/or angry stand on things, especially when their race, religion, culture, gender, etc. have been besmirched. But sometimes understanding and maybe a little compassion are possible, and it's nice to see Whitecloud making that his preferred option, as opposed to taking his ball (or puck) and going home, the way the Georgia football team did. Of course, he's Canadian and they are American, so that may have something to do with which response came to mind first.
Have a good weekend, all. (Z)