Over the weekend, Dwight Howard landed himself in hot water after tweeting a simple #FreePalestine tag. Howard’s actions since have put the Houston Rockets center smack in the middle of a controversy that has nothing to do with basketball and everything to do with Howard catching flak from all sides.
As Deadspin notes, the incident appears to stem from one Twitter user contacting Howard, saying “this is Gaza, Palestine being bombed by Israel. 151 innocent civilians have been killed thus far.”
Howard then had a brief exchange with the Twitter user, asking what he could do to help. The exchange ended with the user telling Howard to “spread awareness,” signing off with the hashtag #FreePalestine, which Howard then retweeted.
#FreePalestine is all Howard tweeted. Shortly thereafter, though, the Rockets center deleted the tweet and apologized twice to anyone who may have been offended.
“Previous tweet was a mistake,” Howard wrote, “I have never commented on international politics and never will.”
Howard shortly followed that up with another tweet, saying, “I apologize if I offended anyone with my previous tweet, it was a mistake!”
The damage was done, though, and Howard’s contribution to the discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict soon drew condemnation from both sides of the argument.
The president of the Zionist Organization of America told TMZ Sports that Howard’s apology was not enough.
“He should be publicly condemned as strong as Donald Sterling was,” said ZOA President Morton Klein, referring to LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who is fighting to keep his team after recordings emerged earlier this year of Sterling making inflammatory comments about African Americans.
“Anyone who uses the phrase ‘Free Palestine’ is either ignorant of the situation,” Klein added, “or hates the Jewish state of Israel. It’s a hateful position.”
Some Twitter users echoed Klein’s sentiment. “You betcha it was a mistake,” wrote one user, while another said Howard had no idea what he was talking about. “Would someone please educate Dwight Howard on what’s going on in Israel?” wrote another.
Howard’s tweet also birthed a response from his teammate, Omri Casspi. Caspi, the first Israeli-born player to play in the NBA, appears to have responded to Howard with the following:
“600 missiles been fired from GAZA by Hamas in the last 4 days. NUMBERS DONT LIE. STOP LYING.”
On the other side, some are miffed that Howard backpedaled on his initial tweet.
“Because greed is more motivating than courage,” one Twitter user wrote to Howard, attaching a graphic picture of a dead Palestinian child, who presumably had been killed by Israel’s retaliatory military strikes on Hamas.
Others took it a bit further, calling Howard a coward outright. “Dwight Howard More like dwight coward,” one user wrote.
Some others were less combative in their responses. “[Dwight Howard], it’s ok to have opinions about international policy,” wrote one user. “Just bc some people disagree with u doesn’t mean u should be silent!”
Rapper Talib Kweli even chimed in, telling Howard “I understand that NBA is a corporation & you have certain obligations. I still appreciate your efforts to be humane.”
Howard’s last apologetic tweet is the most recent released from his account. Prior to the #FreePalestine Tweet, Howard had only shared pictures of himself, humorous tweets on celebrity news, and other, generally inconsequential fare.
[Lead image via @BonsaiSky]