Why was Meyers Leonard out of the NBA? The antisemitic controversy explained
It’s been almost two years since Meyers Leonard was suspended, after he was heard using a racial slur during a live broadcast on the popular streaming platform, Twitch.
Back in March of 2021, the Miami Heat took the decision to suspend Meyers Leonard, after the player came in for heavy condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League and the NBA itself, following his controversial comments about Jewish people. His fortunes may be about to change.
Is Meyers Leonard returning to the NBA?
According to reports, Meyers Leonard is returning to the NBA after almost two years on the outside. The former Miami Heat player, who was suspended in 2021 for using an anti-Semitic slur, was said to be working out with the Los Angeles Lakers - as of last Friday - however, now appears to have a deal in place with the Bucks. If you missed it, Leonard was suspended after a clip of him using the racial slur during a live broadcast of Call of Duty on Twitch, went viral back in March of that year. Needless to say, both the team and the Anti-Defamation League were quick to condemn Leonard’s actions. Indeed, it wasn’t long after the situation became public, that the Heat announced that the center would be “away” from the team “indefinitely.”
“The Miami Heat vehemently condemns the use of any form of hate speech,” the Heat said in a statement shared on Twitter at the time. “The words used by Meyers Leonard were wrong and we will not tolerate hateful language from anyone associated with our franchise,” the statement continued. “To hear it from a Miami Heat player is especially disappointing and hurtful to all those who work here, as well as the larger South Florida, Miami Heat and NBA communities. Meyers Leonard will be away from the team indefinitely,” the team said. “The Miami Heat will cooperate with the NBA while it conducts its investigation.” Meyers was also later fined $50,000 and required to participate in a cultural diversity program.
What did Meyers Leonard actually say?
As mentioned above, it was during a live broadcast of the popular military first-person shooter, Call of Duty, when Leonard called another player a “f******g kike b***h”. To be clear, ‘Kike’ is a derogatory term for a Jewish person. Though the origins of the word are disputed, the general consensus is that it’s from one of two places. Philip Cowen, editor of “The American Hebrew,” suggests that it derives from the Yiddish word kikel, or, circle. “He suggests that Jewish immigrants, not knowing the Latin alphabet, signed their entry forms with a circle rather than the customary X, which signified Christianity. On this theory, Ellis Island immigration inspectors began calling such people kikels, and the term shortened as time passed.” The other theory suggested, is that of Anatoly Liberman who believes that the slur derives from “Hayyim, transcribed in German as Chaim. Kaim Jew was recorded in mid-18th-century German cant. Then, we are told, since Jewish speakers took -im of Kaim as a plural ending in Hebrew, they created a new singular kai.”
What was said about Meyers Leonard’s actions?
As you can imagine, Leonard’s words were not well received. Indeed, speaking at the time, New England Patriots star Julian Edelman, who is Jewish, published an open letter about the incident in which he wrote, “Casual ignorance is harder to combat and has greater reach, especially when you command great influence. Hate is like a virus. Even accidentally, it can rapidly spread.” It’s worth noting, that Leonard did in fact apologize after the clip of his comments went viral. In a post to his Instagram page, he said the following:
“I am deeply sorry for using the anti-Semitic slur during a livestream yesterday,” he wrote. “While I didn’t know what the word meant at the time, my ignorance about its history and how offensive it is to the Jewish community is absolutely not an excuse and I was just wrong. I am now more aware of its meaning and I am committed to properly seeking out people who can help educate me about this type of hate and how we can fight it,” Leonard wrote in part. Where his present situation is concerned, there is no real way to know what to expect. On the other hand, we do know that between his suspension and an operation on his shoulder, Leonard has been out for almost two years. It will be interesting to see what he does with his second chance in the NBA.