The Miami Heat said Tuesday night that Meyers Leonard will be away from the team indefinitely, sharply criticizing his use of an anti-Semitic slur while playing a video game that was being livestreamed.
Leonard apologized for using the term, insisting he did not know what it meant when he used it Monday. The Heat learned of the matter Tuesday, and Leonard's future with the team is now in serious doubt.
“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.”
The team also said it will cooperate with the NBA's investigation.
Leonard acknowledged that he used the term Monday, and said he did not know what it meant at that time. In his apology, posted on social media, he said "my ignorance about its history and how offensive it is to the Jewish community is absolutely not an excuse and I was just wrong."
Leonard also said he was apologizing to team managing general partner Micky Arison and his family, the team's players, coaches and front office, his family and the Jewish community, among others.
"I acknowledge and own my mistake and there's no running from something like this that is so hurtful to someone else," Leonard wrote.
The video began circulating widely on social media Tuesday afternoon. The Heat, who were in the final day of their All-Star break and are not formally resuming practice until Wednesday, had no immediate comment.
It is possible that Leonard may face sanctions from the NBA, which said it was "in the process of gathering more information."
"The NBA unequivocally condemns all forms of hate speech," league spokesman Mike Bass said.
Leonard, a 7-foot center in his ninth NBA season, sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in January and appeared in only three games for the Heat this year. He could become a free agent this summer; the Heat hold a team option on him for next season worth about $10 million.
This is the second time in recent months that Leonard has been at the center of a controversy.
Most players and coaches chose to kneel last summer for the playing of the U.S. and Canadian national anthems when the NBA season resumed inside a bubble at Walt Disney World in Central Florida. Leonard stood instead, his hand over his heart, and did so with the support of Heat teammates.
"I am a compassionate human being and I truly love all people," Leonard told The Associated Press at that time.
He added in that AP interview last summer, "I will continue to use my platform, my voice and my actions to show how much I care about the African American culture and for everyone. I live my life to serve and impact others in a positive way."
At a time when racist incidents against Asian Americans, African Americans and other groups are up nationwide, the Anti-Defamation League says it's important for people with platforms to use them to unite, not divide society.
“Hate against any of us is hate against all of us, and we also want to acknowledge that instances like this offer an opportunity to educate the public," said Lonny Wilk of ADL South Florida.