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ADL demands apology from NBA center Meyers Leonard’s for ‘kike’ slur on Twitch

This article was updated March 9 at 8:20 EST.

An NBA player blurted out an antisemitic slur during a live-stream of a first-person shooter video game on Monday, creating a jarring new category in the canon of professional athletes who have made antisemitic remarks in the past year.

Meyers Leonard, a nine-year pro who plays center for the Miami Heat, directed the slur toward a player who was shooting at him in the video game “Call of Duty,” which he was broadcasting on the platform Twitch.

In the midst of the play, Leonard directed a string of expletives at the player, ending with “you f—-ing kike bitch.” The player he was streaming with laughed.

A video of the moment has been watched 350,000 times on Twitter in the first hour it was posted on Tuesday afternoon.

(VIDEO CAUTION: Contains slur, profanity)

The Anti-Defamation League tweeted that it was “shocked and disappointed” by Leonard’s slur and asked for an apology.

The remark adds to the list of professional athletes targeting Jewish people since the racial justice movement following the death of George Floyd.

Last summer, NFL player DeSean Jackson tweeted a quote falsely attributed to Hitler. Shortly after, retired NBA player Stephen Jackson jumped to DeSean Jackson’s defense. Both later apologized.

But Leonard’s hate speech was not a matter of tropes or Farrakhan-adjacent conspiracy theories that originated in a desire for Black empowerment. It was a slur, spoken by a white athlete who declined to join his NBA peers in their symbolic protest against systemic racism.

Leonard, 29, made headlines earlier in the year for standing during the national anthem while his teammates kneeled in protest of police brutality. In a lengthy Instagram post, he attributed his opposition to his brother’s service in the military.

“I STAND. I STAND FOR the men and women, like my brother who have served this country,” he said in the caption, adding, “I STAND against bigotry, racism, and hate.”

Before the company cut ties with him on Tuesday, Leonard created content for FaZe Clan, an eSports organization, which is why he was streaming the war-style video game for a live audience on Monday. Later in the recording, after the Twitch chat filled with people commenting on the slur, Leonard cut the stream short.

“Yo, my wife needs me,” he said before ending it, according to the sports blog Defector.com. “She just called me, I gotta roll brother. GGs.”

In a statement posted by NBA reporter Shams Charania on Twitter at 7:38 PM on Tuesday, Leonard apologized for the slur.

“I am deeply sorry for using an anti-Semitic slur during a livestream yesterday,” the statement read. “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. I was just wrong.”

The Miami Heat did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication, though a team spokesman told the South Florida Sentinel’s Ira Winderman that the team — whose owner, Mickey Arison, is Jewish — was aware of the incident. NBA spokesman Mike Bass said Tuesday afternoon that the league was reviewing the video.

There is a Jewish player in the NBA, rookie forward Deni Avdija, whose Washington Wizards coach spoke to the media as part of regularly scheduled availability Tuesday evening.

Head coach Scott Brooks said he had not seen the video, but had heard about the incident and condemned the language as “totally unacceptable.”

But he did not plan on speaking to the team or to Avdija about the incident, feeling confident that “our players know better.”

Avdija was not made available by the Wizards public relations team.

Blowback for Leonard’s comments were harsh. FaZe Clan and two gaming sponsors cut ties with Leonard on Tuesday in statements that deplored the use of the slur.

Robert Flom, managing editor of the LA Clippers blog 213Hoops.com, said the Heat should release Leonard as a consequence for his actions.

Zito Madu, formerly of the sports website SBNation, said Leonard’s remarks revealed a part of his vocabulary that was there all along.

This story will be updated as new information comes in.

Louis Keene is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. Email him or follow him on Twitter.

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