Meyers Leonard, a reserve center for the Miami Heat, used an anti-Semitic slur publicly on Twitch, a livestreaming platform populated mostly by video game players.
Leonard was playing “Call Of Duty: Warzone,” a popular multiplayer video game during the stream. Right after calling someone a “coward” because of how they tried to kill his character in the game, Leonard said the slur followed by a sexist vulgarity. The video appeared to have been recorded Monday, but received widespread attention only on Tuesday after the clip of Leonard uttering the slur was posted to social media. By the afternoon, it was the top trending topic on Twitter in the United States.
As the video of Leonard saying the slur was circulating, Leonard was livestreaming a different session of “Call of Duty: Warzone,” an event he promoted Tuesday on his Twitter account, where he has more than 177,000 followers. As the live chat on that stream began to fill with comments about the slur, Leonard hastily ended his participation after receiving a phone call.
“My wife needs me,” Leonard said. “She just called. I’ve got to roll, brother.”
The Twitter post advertising his livestream was soon deleted as were dozens of past videos of him gaming on Twitch.
Leonard, 29, is known to be a fan of video games. In 2019, he invested in FaZe Clan, a popular e-sports team, and he later joined the team, playing under the moniker “Hammer.”
“As many of you know, gaming is a huge passion of mine,” he wrote at the time. “I am excited to be a part of the premier organization in the space and continue building my brand in the world of gaming/esports.”
A spokesman for the Heat said the team was reviewing the video, and Mike Bass, an N.B.A. spokesman, said in a statement: “We just became aware of the video and are in the process of gathering more information. The N.B.A. unequivocally condemns all forms of hate speech.”
A spokeswoman for FaZe Clan declined to comment, and a representative for Leonard did not respond to a request for comment.
Origin PC and Scuf Gaming — two gaming companies that are both owned by the computer hardware company Corsair — released identical statements Tuesday that said they “decided to cease our working relationship with Meyers.” The Origin PC logo and Scuf Gaming logos were visible on the stream where Leonard used the slur.
Leonard is in his ninth season but has appeared in only three games this campaign. He is expected to miss the rest of the season after having a shoulder operation last month. Last season, Leonard started 49 games for the Heat, averaging 6.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
He also received attention last summer for being one of the few N.B.A. players who declined to kneel for the national anthem as protests of racial injustice occurred when the league resumed the 2019-20 season at Walt Disney World. Leonard, who is white, said that he supported the Black Lives Matter movement and did not see kneeling as disrespectful, but that he also wanted to honor his brother, who served in the military.
Leonard is being paid around $9.4 million this season, and has a team option for next season.
Online video gaming — and its exponentially expanding audience — has turned gamers into celebrities. The audio and text chat functions in many video games are notorious for frequent utterances of slurs, and a culture in which gamers will say anything to get a reaction. In 2017, Felix Kjellberg, a popular video gamer known as PewDiePie who has over 109 million subscribers on YouTube, was dropped by many mainstream sponsors after it was reported that he had used anti-Semitic slurs in at least nine videos.
Later that year, after he used a different slur while livestreaming a game, the phrase “heated gaming moment” entered the lexicon as an excuse for derogatory language used while gaming.
Celebrities, and especially athletes, have been attracted to livestreaming video games, and also gotten into trouble for what they have said. Last spring, Kyle Larson, a popular NASCAR driver, was dismissed from his team and suspended by the organization after using a racial slur during a livestream of a virtual race.
The Anti-Defamation League posted a statement on Twitter condemning the remarks.
“We are shocked and disappointed to see @MeyersLeonard use this ugly, offensive #antisemitic slur,” the statement said. “We have reached out to the @MiamiHEAT and @NBA about this and urge Mr. Leonard to issue an apology immediately for this egregious and hateful rhetoric.”
Marc Stein contributed reporting.