PLANTATION, Fla. – Meyers Leonard’s use of an anti-Semitic slur on a video game live stream caused pain, but some in South Florida’s Jewish community don’t want to see the Miami Heat center canceled.
They see an opportunity for him and others to learn from the incident.
“Today we need to be about building bridges and not tearing those bridges down and throwing that person on the other side and saying, ‘I’m done with you,’” said Rabbi Andrew Jacobs of Ramat Shalom Synagogue in Plantation. “It’s an opportunity not to eliminate this player, not to sweep the situation under the rug and pretend it never happened, but to give him an opportunity to learn. And in turn, all of those fans of his can learn from him, and we can teach a whole new generation of people this important lesson.”
Leonard, 29, used the anti-Jewish slur and other profanities on a Twitch stream while playing the video game “Call of Duty.”
The NBA said it is investigating the video that emerged Tuesday, and the Heat announced that Leonard would be away from the team indefinitely.
Leonard, who was already out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, apologized with a statement that read in part: “I am deeply sorry for using an anti-Semitic slur during a livestream yesterday. 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.”
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, who is Jewish, was among those who reached out Wednesday in hopes of educating Leonard — even inviting him to a Shabbat dinner when Edelman is in Miami.
“To me, that’s exactly what we should be doing right now,” Jacobs said. “There’s too much of a desire these days, when people say things they shouldn’t, we often shun them and try to silence them, as opposed to reaching out and trying to lift them up.”
Leonard’s long-term status with the Heat remains to be seen. He’s on a one-year contract with a team option for 2021. The 7-footer only appeared in three games for the Heat this season, averaging 3.3 points and 2.3 rebounds.
The Heat are returning from the All-Star break and practice Wednesday before resuming the season Thursday night.