NBA player who used antisemitic slur says incident traumatized him
An NBA player who used an antisemitic slur while livestreaming a videogame suggested this week that he had suicidal thoughts in the aftermath of the incident.
Meyers Leonard, a seven-foot-tall center who at the time was a player for the Miami Heat, described his regret and his efforts to repent during an appearance at University of Illinois, his alma mater, on Monday.
“I’ll be honest: I thank God I didn’t have a gun in the house that day, if you know what I mean,” Leonard told the Chabad audience.
Leonard was on campus to be feted for a $500,000 donation he made to the school’s athletic program. He answered questions about the incident in a press conference before a school basketball game and during a televised forum with Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, the director of the university’s Chabad house.
It was Leonard’s first time addressing the slur in public since it derailed his career last March.
While playing the first-person shooter game “Call of Duty” last March, Leonard called another gamer a “kike b——” in a heated moment. The remark, which did not appear to be directed at a Jewish person, drew swift condemnation from Jewish community organizations, basketball fans and his employer. He was fined $50,000 and suspended a week by the NBA, and lost several gaming sponsorships. He was also suspended from the livestreaming platform Twitch for a week.
According to an article in The News-Gazette, Leonard was quickly referred to Rabbi Pinny Andrusier of Chabad of South Broward after his slur became public.
The two shared a long phone conversation, Andrusier said, in which Leonard expressed his desire to learn more about the Jewish people.
“I wasn’t exposed to a lot of different culture, religion, etc.,” Leonard said of his upbringing in Robinson, Ill., population 7,150, in the press conference. “I just wasn’t.”
Andrusier invited him to dinner with Holocaust survivors, and later facilitated a community service event in which Leonard helped distribute meals to Jewish families in the Miami area.
He has also visited a Holocaust museum and put on basketball camps for Jewish children, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The rabbi told the Tribune that Leonard’s remorse was genuine.
“I saw him in tears,” Andrusier said of meeting Leonard for the first time. “Authentic tears, sincere.”
When Leonard made the remark, the nine-year NBA veteran was recovering from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of last season. The Heat traded him shortly after the incident to Memphis, which immediately waived him.
He hasn’t played in the league since, though he said Monday that was due to his health and that several teams had recently inquired about his services.
According to the News-Gazette, Leonard’s appearance at Chabad on Monday was intended to last an hour, but carried on for 90 minutes at the player’s behest.
Leonard said that he received death threats as contempt for his derogatory remarks surged on social media. And he said the experience of being hated by so many people had traumatized him to the extent that it caused him to revisit — and ultimately process — the death of his father when Leonard was six years old.
He said he had undergone eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, as part of his recovery.
“I seek love because of trauma from my childhood, and so often, we run from asking for help,” Leonard said. “I’m a pretty tough basketball player, I feel like, but from the inside, no sir. I was dying, literally.”