Miami Heat confirmed on Tuesday night that centre Meyers Leonard would be away from the team for an indefinite period after he used an anti-Semitic slur during a video game livestream.
Leonard was playing Call of Duty: Warzone on his Twitch channel, a popular platform where gamers can stream themselves playing against each other.
In a video that surfaced on Tuesday, the 29-year-old can be heard calling another player a “coward”, before using an anti-Semitic slur followed by a derogatory sexist vulgarity.
Leonard’s comments appeared to stem from the fact that his opponent in the game had tried to kill his character.
“Fing cowards. Don’t fing snipe me, you fing kb,” he said.
The etymology of the anti-Semitic slur remains contested and several theories have been put forward, the most prevalent of which suggests the term dates back to the late 19th century.
The word “was born on Ellis Island, when Jewish immigrants who were illiterate (or could not use Roman-English letters), when asked to sign the entry-forms with the customary ‘X,’ refused—and instead made a circle,” Leo Rosten wrote in The Joys of Yiddish.
“The Yiddish word for ‘circle’ is kikel (pronounced KY—kel), and for ‘little circle,’ kikeleh. Before long the immigration inspectors were calling anyone who signed with an ‘O’ instead of an ‘X’ a kikel or kikeleh or kikee.”
Leonard’s livestream took place on Monday, but footage did not emerge until the following day when a clip was published on Twitter. As the video went viral, the Heat and the NBA swiftly condemned the incident
“The Miami Heat vehemently condemns the use of any form of hate speech,” the team statement said.
“The words used by Meyers Leonard were wrong and we will not tolerate hateful language from anyone associated with our franchise. 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.”
In a separate statement, NBA spokesman Mike Bass said: “The NBA unequivocally condemns all forms of hate speech.”
An avid gamer, Leonard has about 70,000 Twitch followers and has often discussed how much he enjoys interacting with fans on the platform.
On Tuesday, the 11th overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft was streaming another session of Call of Duty: Warzone before swiftly ending his involvement as the livestream chat began filling up with comments about his slur.
“My wife needs me,” he said as he received a phone call. “She just called. I’ve got to roll, brother.”
Earlier in the day, Leonard had promoted the Twitch livestream to his 177,000 Twitter followers, but the post was subsequently deleted.
On Tuesday night, the Illinois alumnus issued an apology, insisting he was not aware of the meaning of the word he used.
“I am deeply sorry for using an anti-Semitic slur during a livestream yesterday,” Leonard wrote on Instagram.
“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.”
In his statement, Leonard also apologized to Heat owner Micky Arison and his family, a prominent Israeli-American business dynasty.
Arison, like his late father Ted, was born in Tel Aviv.
“I acknowledge and own my mistake and there’s no running from something like this that is so hurtful to someone else,” Leonard added.
“This is not a proper representation of who I am and I want to apologize to the Arisons, my teammates, coaches, front office and everyone associated with the Miami Heat organization, to my family, to our loyal fans and to others in the Jewish community who I have hurt. I promise to do better and know that my future actions will be more powerful than my use of this word.”