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Before I share any thoughts on this situation, I want to say that I am 100% against the use of any anti-Semitic slur. Ignorance or not, it is wrong and there should be consequences for using such a word.

Earlier this week, in a very small corner of the internet, Miami Heat’s Meyers Leonard was on a livestream for the popular gaming service Twitch when he uttered an anti-Semitic slur.

“F***ing cowards. Don’t f***ing snipe me, you k**e b****.”

If you’ve played first-person shooter games online for any period of time, hearing something like this come through the microphone would not be a surprise. I’ve played sports at a high level all over the country and been inside some of the fiercest rival’s gyms, and I can say with full confidence the worst hatred/bigotry/racism etc. I’ve experienced has come from playing video games online against strangers.

To some degree it’s kind of the same thing you see online on Facebook posts in the comment section. Complete strangers will say nasty things to each other, solely because they are behind a computer screen. What makes the online gaming scene more unique is the fact that you are actually talking voice-to-voice to the person who is throwing out derogatory terms.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called “f***ing n****r” playing video games online for no reason at all. It’s probably in the hundreds.

There is a high level of frustration that comes with playing these first-person shooters competitively. There are plenty of people on Twitch who’s career is literally streaming themselves playing video games with people subscribing to watch them. While Leonard’s main career is in the NBA, he is an investor in the Esports organization FaZe Clan as well as a content creator for them. 

Apology and response

I’m not surprised at all to hear that those words were said, I am a little surprised to hear it come from someone of Leonard’s status. Leonard was a part of the NBA’s bubble last season, which was filled with social justice messaging as well as protests during the national anthem (which Leonard chose to not participate in). With all of the PR teams he has access to, you would think he would think twice before saying something like he did in front of a live audience.

In his apology Leonard said he “didn’t know what the word meant at the time,” and that “[his] ignorance about its history and how offensive it is to the Jewish community is absolutely not an excuse.” I don’t think it’s hard to imagine that a 29-year-old doesn’t know the true origins and meaning of that word as well as the damage it has called. It’s like growing up as a kid. You’re told something is a bad word but you don’t know WHY it’s a bad word. I don’t want to immediately dismiss the potential of his ignorance and I am also not implying that should be a reason to dismiss what he said. 

I don’t want to get to a point in our society where whenever someone makes a mistake or does something wrong they are immediately black-listed for the rest of their careers with no room to grow and learn. Given enough time if that’s the route we choose to go down there will be nobody left. We should strive to be a society that holds people accountable for their actions, while also giving them opportunities to become educated and also grow from their mistakes.

I love the message current NFL receiver Julian Edelman shared to Leonard online: “Not trying to add to [the criticism], I just want to offer some perspective. I get the sense that you didn’t use that word out of hate, more out of ignorance. Most likely, you weren’t trying to hurt anyone or even profile Jews in your comment. That’s what makes it so destructive.”

My hope is that more of us can follow Edleman’s lead by trying to understand while at the same time provide an avenue to education and an opportunity to grow.

Mike Creef is a fighter for equality and justice for all. Growing up bi-racial (Jamaican-American) on the east coast allowed him to experience many different cultures and beliefs that helped give him a...