Just over a month ago, Meyers Leonard used an antisemitic word during a live stream in front of his 69,000 fans. He used the word in anger and claimed he didn’t know the meaning.
Controversy erupted when the antisemitic video went viral— and the then-Miami Heat center was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who quickly waived him. While Mr. Leonard has lost his job, there has been no official confirmation it was due to the hateful slur.
Meanwhile, NBA commissioner Adam Silver suspended Mr. Leonard for one week and fined him $50,000. This was largely symbolic, as Mr. Leonard’s contract for 2019-2020 was worth over 10 million. Although the fine was the largest possible for the offense, it was still less than 1% of his salary.
Consequences light compared to the seriousness of rising hate crimes
The suspension was also symbolic, as Mr. Leonard was already on the injured list, and not playing this year.
In response to Mr. Leonard’s actions, Jewish players and the Anti-Defamation League offered Mr. Leonard a chance to learn more about Jewish history, which, to his credit, he did accept. He was also provided with mandated cultural sensitivity programming.
However, between the minimal fine and vague apology on Mr. Leonard’s instagram only, his consequences seem like a slap on the wrist in 2021, when hate crimes are at their highest rate in over a decade. Meyers Leonard did not commit a physical hate crime, but he contributed to the rhetoric that keeps people who are not considered “purely” white on the outside of society: unwelcome, different, and other.
Hateful language leads to violence
Mr. Leonard confirmed that in his opinion, people who are Jewish are worth an insult during an outburst of anger. Hateful language is the first step toward empowering hate, and eventually, hate crimes.
“Jews will not replace us!” Shouted the protestors at the 2017 march for white supremacy, during which one woman was killed after a truck plowed into a crowd. One of the more famous insurrectionists at the Capitol building on January 6th wore a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt.
Another wore a shirt bearing the phrase 6MWE, for 6 million weren’t enough, a reference to the 6 million Jewish people killed during the Holocaust. A noose was hung on the Capitol lawn.
While Meyers Leonard eventually lost his job, he is still able to play in the NBA once he is recovered from his injury. His consequences seem weak in the face of what Mr. Leonard did: empowered his fans to use the same hate-filled language he employed so easily in front of them, and tacitly encouraging them to do the same.
And for that, no consequence is large enough.