Meyers Leonard's Anti-Semitic Slur Condemned by Heat Coach: 'Words have Consequences'

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra warned Meyers Leonard "there are consequences to words" as he condemned his player's use of an anti-Semitic slur as "extremely distasteful and hurtful".

"F***ing cowards. Don't f***ing snipe me, you f***ing k*** b****," Leonard said while playing Call of Duty: Warzone on his Twitch channel, a platform where gamers can stream themselves playing against each other.

While its etymology remains debated, k*** is recognized as a derogatory term used to describe people of Jewish background or of Jewish religion.

Shortly after footage of the incident surfaced on Twitter on Tuesday—the exchange on Twitch unfolded a day earlier—the Heat announced Leonard would be away from the team for an indefinite period.

The NBA also condemned Leonard's actions and announced it would open an investigation into the incident.

Speaking to reporters for the first time since the suspension was handed out, Spoelstra did not offer any excuse for Leonard, whose season was already over because of a shoulder injury.

"Those words are extremely hurtful. We don't condone that. There's so much more that needs to be done in terms of education and what's right against what's wrong," he said.

"We know Meyers, Meyers has been a really good teammate, he's a good human being. He said something that was extremely distasteful and hurtful, and we're left with the aftermath of that."

On Tuesday night, Leonard issued a lengthy apology on Instagram, but insisted he was not aware of the meaning of the word he used.

"We don't condone that, obviously," Spoelstra added.

"It was a disappointing day. We've had some conservations out here as a team. I've spoken to Meyers, he feels really bad about it. It doesn't matter the intent, it's just not right."

Spoelstra's message echoed by Heat captain Udonis Haslem, who said Leonard's behaviour had no place within the franchise.

"We can't tolerate that here. Right is right and wrong is wrong," he said.

The 18-year NBA veteran reiterated the apology the Heat issued on Tuesday, when they "vehemently condemned" the use of any form of hate speech.

"From the bottom of my heart and this organization, we apologize. That won't be tolerated here. We're going to be on the right side of these things moving forward." Haslem explained.

"I felt it. I have a lot of Jewish friends. [...] I reached out to a couple of them after that happened, just to see how they were feeling and to make sure they were OK and just let them know that we don't condone that."

Haslem said comments like Leonards' can "spread like wildfire", a message echoed by New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, who said hate can rapidly spread like a virus.

In an open letter to Leonard he posted on Twitter on Wednesday, Edelman, who is Jewish, invited the Heat center to a Shabbat dinner to discuss the incident.

An open letter to @MeyersLeonard

— Julian Edelman (@Edelman11) March 10, 2021

"I get the sense that you didn't use that word out of hate, more out of ignorance," part of the letter reads.

"Most likely, you weren't trying to hurt anyone or even profile Jews in your comment.

"That's what makes it so destructive. When someone intends to be hateful, it's usually met with great resistance. Casual ignorance is harder to combat and has greater reach, especially when you command great influence. Hate is like a virus. Even accidentally, it can rapidly spread."

A keen gamer who has about 70,000 Twitch followers, Leonard was dropped by several gaming companies after footage of him using the anti-Semitic slur became public.

Astro Gaming, Origin PC and Scuf Gaming all parted ways with Leonard on Wednesday.

"We are aware of comments made by sponsored streamer Meyers Leonard," said a statement posted on Astro's Twitter account.

"Astro is committed to creating an inclusive gaming environment and one that combats racism and other forms of discrimination, retaliation and harassment. For that reason, we are ending our relationship with Meyers Leonard, effective immediately."

Scuf Gaming and Origin PC, which are both owned by Corsair, confirmed they had ceased their sponsorship of Leonard and were looking into the incident.

They posted almost identical statements on Twitter: "A comment was recently made by Meyers Leonard that does not reflect the values or views of [the company]. We have decided to cease our working relationship with Meyers as we look into it further."

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra
Erik Spoelstra, head coach of the Miami Heat, reacts during the third quarter of a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center on March 4 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Sean Gardner/Getty Images