Meyers Leonard Reveals the Sliding Scale of Hate

Imagine the following scenarios: In our first scenario, a guy (Ryan) is playing a video game online with strangers, and–in a fit of anger–Ryan shouts out “you dirty ki–s!” In our second scenario, Ryan is playing a video game online with his friends, half of whom are Jewish, when–in a fit of anger–he shouts “you dirty ki–s!” In our final scenario, Ryan is playing a video game online with his friends, half of whom are Jewish, when–after his team wins–he shouts, “you dirty ki–s!” Would you get mad in all three scenarios? Or do you see a sliding scale of hate? That is the question being asked in the Meyers Leonard incident.

Meyers Leonard is a forward with the Miami Heat. He recently lost his cool while playing Call of Duty, and–in a fit of anger–yelled out, “F—–g cowards, don’t f—–g snipe at me you f—–g k— b—-.” Now obviously, that is an antiSemitic slur. No way you can argue it. The question here though is two-fold: did Meyers Leonard know it was antiSemitic, and how bad was it that he said that?

It is important to ask those questions because you have to realize there is are gradations to hate. Just because somebody does something you deem as hateful, it does not make all hateful incidents the same as all others.

In the scenarios above, our guy Ryan says the same thing in each one. However, each scenario is drastically different from the others. And, how bad they all are is entirely subjective. One person could come away saying Ryan is an antiSemite in all three. Another in just two out of three. To a third, he is only an antiSemite in one. And of course, a final person could say he is not antiSemitic in any of these scenarios.

So How Do You Decipher Between Levels of Hate?

Was what Meyers Leonard said, “hateful” or “antiSemitic?” That is the question at the crux of this incident. The answer is obvious to almost everybody, “yes.” However, while he clearly used an antiSemitic slur, was he doing it to be hateful?

Clearly, he said it because he knew “ki–s” was a word associated with something bad. He may have even subconsciously made a connection to cowardice, which would be taking that hateful utterance to an entirely different level of hate. But even there you can see how if he knew it was about Jews and then equated Jews with cowardice, it would be even worse.

So again, the question becomes, did he know it was antiSemitic? According to Leonard, the answer to even that was, “no.” Apparently, he was completely ignorant of the meaning and any connotations. You can believe Meyers Leonard, or you cannot believe Meyers Leonard. That is up to you. It is entirely subjective.

But, we can all agree it is bad to use an antiSemitic slur, so ok, Meyers Leonard gets a $50,000 fine and one-week suspension from team facilities. The NBA and the Miami Heat treated Meyers Leonard like a naughty boy who said a bad thing and needed a timeout and that is exactly what they gave him. Seems like a solid resolution to the situation.

You Can Use a Hateful Incident to Learn and Improve

But then we get situations where it is obvious somebody really hates somebody else. In the second scenario, Ryan is using the slur as a direct insult against his Jewish friends. That is a terrible thing to do and a terrible thing to say. But they are his friends, so why would he say such a hurtful thing to them? Because he knows it is going to hurt them. However, there are two ways to even look at this (1) he is a friend that crossed a line and immediately feels shame and (2) a now-former friend that was harboring and hiding actual antiSemitic hate.

While both are bad, the second one is obviously much worse. That first one can fall into the “learning” category; somebody did something so bad that they feel immense shame and promise never to do it again. In fact, that is the category Meyers Leonard is trying to put himself in. He says he was ignorant of the term, but that it does not excuse him using the word, and he will use the incident as a means to learn and grow. Again, you can choose to believe him or not, but there are clearly levels to hate.

Words are Words and Violence is Violence

The most fascinating example though is the last one. In that last scenario, Ryan is using an antiSemitic slur as a term of endearment. There is not an ounce of hate in that usage. This is of course how black America primarily uses the N-word. This is how important intent is when it comes to “hate speech.” You can call somebody that most vile thing in the world, but if you say it with love, it is with love.

So obviously there are different levels of hate. It is why we have different levels of crime for assault, sexual assault, and murder. Intent matters. All of this emphasis on hateful words though distracts from more pressing issues. Is it bad Meyers Leonard used an antiSemitic slur? Duh. But it is a shanda the Meyers Leonard incident is getting about 10 times more media coverage than the dangerous rise in antisemitism. In the vile antiSemitism coming out of the Black Lives Matter movement. More than Jews getting accosted in the streets and beat up in the streets.

Sure, words can hurt, but if you are spending your time getting offended by what an NBA basketball player said in his live stream and not worrying about Jews getting beaten in New York City, you need to adjust your priorities.

That is what this incident reveals. We have a terrible tendency to misplace our priorities because we do not pay attention to the reality that there are levels to hate. There are gradations to hate. We need to accept this reality if we really want to improve and stamp out the real hate. Fine. Get upset with Meyers Leonard if you must, but make sure you spend the right amount of time worrying about words versus worrying about what matters most.