An Open Letter to Meyers Leonard

Hi Meyers,

You don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but I’ve learned a lot about you in the last few days. Before this week, all I knew about you was that you play for the Miami Heat, you chose not to kneel for the National Anthem during the NBA Bubble this summer, and that your name always makes me want a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade.

And then, earlier this week, in the middle of my workday, my phone started blowing up with texts and DMs from friends and coworkers.

“Did you see the Meyers Leonard video?”

“What does that word mean?”

“What is the NBA going to do about this?”

“Are you okay?”

I probably should have started this letter by saying that in addition to being a woman who works in sports as a writer, podcaster, and social media manager, I am a proud Jewish woman. My father is a rabbi, I come from a family full of rabbis, and I can trace my matriarchal roots all the way back to a prominent Jewish commentator from the 1600s. I lived in Israel growing up and speak fluent Hebrew. I can read Torah and have studied the Holocaust for most of my life. I also lost most of my extended family in the Holocaust. So, you can understand why a lot of my non-Jewish friends came to me with questions, and to see how I was feeling about what you said.

My gut reaction was “What the hell,” because who actually uses that word? How dare you? What is wrong with you? Are you ignorant, hateful, or both? Even after years of studying antisemitism and experiencing it firsthand, I still don’t understand how people can behave this way. I spent the last few days in a cloud of anger, frustration, sadness, and exhaustion.

The word you used is not one that I will repeat. It’s a horrible slur that makes my stomach churn. And yet you used it both carelessly and intentionally. It’s not often that those two adverbs align, but in this case, they are intertwined. You said something horrible, and you tossed that word out of your mouth like you were discarding a piece of trash, seemingly with no concern for the person it was directed at or anyone else who might hear it. But you took a deep breath before speaking as if you were pausing to select your verbal weapon of choice; you spoke with intention.

And that is why I have a hard time believing that you spoke from a place of ignorance, as you later said in your official statement. While you might not have known the exact weight that word carries or the lengthy and immense history of antisemitism, you knew enough to use it as an insult. You paused to choose a word that you could use to hurt someone, and that means that bare minimum, you knew that word was not a kind one. Furthermore, you are surrounded by Jewish people in your profession. Your commissioner and your team owner are both Jewish men. The city you play for has a Jewish population of over 123,000. But most of all, with the internet, you have virtually unlimited knowledge at your fingertips to help you learn about people who are different from you if you choose to open your mind. Ignorance is not an excuse.

You’ll probably never read this letter. You’ll serve your suspension and pay your fine, lose some endorsements, and carry this around with you for a while. People will look at you differently, but eventually, most will move on. Other athletes will do something wrong, and the focus will shift to them.

But before that happens, I want to tell you what it felt like to be a Jewish person in sports this week.

Imagine how it feels to be part of a small people that, throughout history, has been discriminated against, scapegoated, exiled, and murdered en masse. You see the rising numbers of antisemitic attacks, the increased security at your beloved elementary school and the synagogue where you’ve prayed since infancy, and you feel scared. You receive hateful messages on social media because you’re proud of your religion, and when you speak out about it, people tell you that it’s not a big deal and that you should get over it. And then sports, your favorite distraction and job, get dragged into it because athletes such as yourself decide to say something antisemitic.

You have a large platform, Meyers. Everyone’s words matter, but especially the words of people with large platforms and followings. People will listen to you, make excuses for you, and even strive to emulate you. Children look up to you. Adults on social media will put morality aside to root for you. I have Jewish friends in Miami who work in sports and grew up as Heat fans. Put yourself in their shoes this week. Some of them might even have to work with you when your suspension is over. When someone with a large platform speaks, more people listen. The proof of that is in the replies my friends and I received when we reacted to your behavior. It showed us how little people care about antisemitism.

I spent so much of this week feeling negative emotions about you, and I’m tired of feeling that way. So instead, here is what I hope for you, Meyers. I hope that you take Julian Edelman up on his offer to talk about Judaism and enjoy a Shabbat meal together. I hope that you go to one of the many Holocaust museums in this country, and take a tour from someone more educated than you. I hope that you read Ray Allen’s piece on why he went to Auschwitz and reach out to him about it; maybe he can even take you there someday. Most of all, I hope that you realize how much your words matter, and how much of an impact you make.

Gabrielle Starr

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