On March 9th, 2021, Meyers Leonard, then, a sharp-shooting NBA Center for the Miami Heat made a terrible mistake. While playing Call of Duty: Warzone, and streaming it on Twitch, in the heat of the moment he said the k-word– a four letter derogatory slur for Jews. Shortly after this mistake he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and eventually waived– and he had been out of the league for 2 years until being signed to a 10-day contract by the Milwaukee Bucks a few short days ago.
After the incident, he quickly issued the following apology on Instagram:
I am deeply sorry for using an anti-Semitic slur during a livestream yesterday. 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. I acknowledge and own my mistake and there’s no running from something like this that is so hurtful to someone else…I want to apologize…to 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.
He immediately set out to demonstrate that his apology was not in fact empty words, but something that he stood by with all of his heart and soul. Within a day or two of the incident he was in the office of a local Chabad rabbi, crying his eyes out in remorse. A day or two later he was at his home for a Shabbos meal. He has spent the better part of the last two years building a strong and deep relationship with the Jewish community– running basketball clinics at the Jewish Community Center, and speaking to various Jewish groups and synagogues. I personally was so moved when I heard his story that I reached out to him via social media, and he graciously responded, expressing gratitude for his relationship he has built with the Jewish community.
In looking at his story, there are three lessons that jump out to me.
A) How to issue a proper apology.
B) People can truly learn from their mistakes to become much better, stronger people.
C) We must refrain from making judgments on situations until we have all of the information.
A) It is remarkable to compare the apology of Meyers Leonard with that of Kyrie Irving when he was initially interviewed after posting the link to a movie that is anti-Semitic and denies the Holocaust. Irving was explicitly asked if he apologizes for the offense caused, and responded as follows:
“I take my responsibility for posting that..Some things that were questionable in there, untrue. Like I said in the first time you guys asked me when I was sitting on that stage, I don’t believe everything that everybody posts — it’s a documentary. So I take my responsibility…I didn’t mean to cause any harm…I’m not the one that made the documentary…I told you guys how I felt. I respect all walks of life and embrace all walks of life. That’s where I sit. … I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from.”
After being suspended by the Nets until he issued a proper apology he did go on Instagram and issue a much better apology.
Whereas Irving initially refused to mutter any semblance of an apology, Meyers Leonard, explicitly acknowledged what he did wrong, clearly demonstrate sincere remorse, and vowed to learn from his mistake, and do better in the future–the definition of a meaningful and thoughtful apology.
B) On similar note, Meyers Leonard demonstrated a profound lesson for how teshuva, or repentance can look. We often think of teshuva involving four steps: to have sincere regret for mistakes we have made, to verbalize those mistakes, to abandon our errant ways, and to resolve not to repeat the mistake in the future. Although not Jewish, Meyers Leonard clearly demonstrated he has undergone this process– the regret he feels has been made clear as day in his interviews and many tears he has shed over his mistake. His repeated explicit apologies for the specific offense he committed are too numerous to count. His pledge to do better in the future and learn from his mistake demonstrate his determination to grow from this, and his educating himself about the Jewish community, and his blossoming relationship with the Jewish community have unquestionably shown how he has truly abandoned any of the ignorance he previously had about the community.
C) The third lesson is that a person should be very wary of making and kind of judgment about a person until they know all of the facts. As someone who has been closely following Meyers Leonard as he was trying to get back into the NBA I was very saddened to see many social media posts in the aftermath of his signing with the Milwaukee Bucks. Someone tweeted, “C’mon man. Our organization is better than this.” Another: “You like Meyers Leonard, mainly because the guy is a 7 footer, strong in the upper body, 260 pounds, but he can step out and shoot the three ball at a high percentage. Now we all know he’s not the first guy you invite to your Bar Mitzvah, but he’s a serviceable back up big man.”
Ironically, Meyers Leonard is exactly one of the first people you would invite to a Bar Mitzvah. Before we reach judgments about other people, it is vital that we research the facts. In a social media world where news breaks at lightning speed, this is admittedly very difficult. But vital nonetheless.
For all the above reasons I will be cheering on Meyers Leonard as he resumes his NBA career, and I hope that in a world in which anti-Semitism is on an alarming rise, he can continue to be a beacon of light and advocate for the Jewish community.