Opinion: Meyers Leonard knew what the word meant – and he’d be better off admitting that

When it comes the all-too-familiar genre of ethnic-slur apologies, "I didn't know what the word meant at the time" is certainly a new one.

Of course, that was the excuse the Miami Heat's Meyers Leonard used in his "apology" for loudly using an anti-Semitic slur during a Twitch stream on Tuesday.

Leonard may not have explicitly known the detailed history of the word (heck, most Jews probably don't), but he definitely knew what it meant.

Watching video of the incident, what's most striking is Leonard seeming to pause beforehand to come up with something derogatory to say. It didn't take him long to come up with that particular slur, a deep cut and not something that you hear regularly (or ever) in the 21st century.

And that's what makes made Leonard's apology all the more insincere and cowardly. 

You used the word, now own it. Why was it in your vocabulary to begin with? If you didn't know what it meant, why say it? 

Leonard had the opportunity to be honest, admit he know its meaning, show remorse for using the word and start moving in the right direction. Instead, he took a regrettable way out.

Leonard during a game in December 2020. (Photo: Jasen Vinlove, USA TODAY Sports)

Sure, Leonard checked some of the other bingo boxes in his apology ("committed to properly seeking out people who can help educate me about this type of hate and how we can fight it") and will probably partake in some goodwill sessions with Jewish leaders in the near future.

That's a good start in theory, but the risk is that the "people who can help educate me" aren't exactly representative of the majority of American Jews. This became apparent last summer when Ice Cube, in the wake of his own anti-Semitic tweets, befriended Mort Klein, the controversial president of the Zionist Organization of America known for spreading Islamophobia and calling Black Lives Matter a "Soros-funded racist extremist Israelophobic hate group."

If Leonard truly wants to be better, he needs to take it upon himself and seek out a variety of voices in order to learn about the American Jewish experience. In a 2013 study, 62% of American Jews said being Jewish is more about culture and ancestry than religion. 

There's no shortage of Jews in sports to speak on it. NFL wide receiver Julian Edelman offered some help. Have a private conversation with NBA commissioner Adam Silver. WNBA star Sue Bird is one of the country's leading voices for change and inclusion.

Surely whoever starts pointing Leonard in the right direction has good intentions, but it's crucial that he find avenues on his own. Otherwise, he'll never learn.

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