Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Zach Whitecloud Oct 30, 2022; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Zach Whitecloud (2) skates during during warmups before a game against the Winnipeg Jets at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Whitecloud was put in a horrible spot. The Las Vegas Golden Knights defenseman and Indigenous NHL player was forced Tuesday to address a tasteless joke from ESPN anchor John Anderson about his surname.

With the Golden Knights in the midst of a semifinals series, Whitecloud certainly has other priorities at hand. But that’s what often happens in our society: the burden is placed on the offended party to diffuse the situation.

When speaking to reporters, Whitecloud said he accepted Anderson’s apology, and steered the conversation towards education rather than admonishment.

It was maybe the most impressive performance we’ll see throughout the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“Obviously, I don’t want to be in front of all you (reporters), talking about this. But with that comes an opportunity to allow not just John and myself, but everyone to learn from this incident,” he said. “To move forward and make sure that these things don’t happen again. And I just want to make that point clear, too — John recognizes that.”

On Monday, Anderson, who’s been an anchor on SportsCenter since 1999, was providing commentary over highlights from the Golden Knights’ matchup against the Edmonton Oilers. In the second period, Whitecloud scored his first goal of the postseason, giving Las Vegas a 3-1 lead.

It was maybe the biggest moment of the undrafted player’s pro career. But Anderson made the story about himself with an insensitive quip.

“What kind of name is Whitecloud?,” he asked. “Great name if you’re toilet paper.”

Whitecloud is the first indigenous NHL player from the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, a reservation community of roughly 1,080 people located 30 miles west of Brandon, Manitoba.

Like other indigenous communities, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation members faced gross discrimination from the Canadian government, and were enrolled in the country’s residential school system. A 2021 Canadian government report detailed widespread malfeasance within the schools, including the emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children. There were also at least 4,100 deaths.

The purpose of the residential school system was to detach indigenous children from their cultures. Many never returned home.

Whitecloud’s grandfather was a survivor of the program, along with his grandmother and uncle. He took his grandfather’s last name, which Anderson mocked.

“We will not forget the pain and suffering, the disrespect, to be treated as less than human,” Whitecloud posted on Instagram last year. “We will gain strength from the resiliency of our relatives who survived, and we will [honor] their sacrifices.”

With that grotesque history in mind, it would’ve been understandable for Whitecloud to dismiss Anderson, and not accept his apology.

Instead, Whitecloud preached compassion.

“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 to John this morning and wanted to make sure that he understood that I understood that people make mistakes,” he said Tuesday.

In his apology, Anderson admitted he was uneducated about Whitecloud’s background. “It’s my job to be prepared and know the backgrounds of the players and I blew it,” he said.

There is a familiar outrage cycle that happens whenever public figures slip up and say something offensive. They are chastised and admonished, and then everybody moves on.

But when it comes to promoting education, the cycle of castigation falls short. Whitecloud, with tears in his eyes, told reporters he wants to move the conversation forward.

“I believe [Anderson] was sincere in his apology and I just wanted to reiterate to him that I was gonna be the first person to reach out my hand and offer help,” he said. “Because people make mistakes, right? And it’s just a time for everyone to learn (and) move forward.”

Whitecloud, who’s only 26 years old, extended the veteran anchor an olive branch. It was a championship gesture, and now we’ll see if the call for education and compassion can be received not just by Anderson, but by the wider sports world.