Tony Parker has apologized after he and San Antonio Spurs teammate and fellow French countryman Boris Diaw were thrust into a national controversy in France over what some have perceived as an anti-Semitic gesture in published photographs.
Parker, who released a lengthy statement Monday afternoon, said a photo of him posing with French comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala was several years old. A similar photo has also been published of Diaw with the comedian/activist.
"While this gesture has been part of French culture for many years, it was not until recently that I learned of the very negative concerns associated with it," Parker said in the statement.
On Sunday, the photos were published by media outlets in France. In the pictures, Parker and Diaw are seen doing what is known as the "quenelle," which has become a symbol of anti-Semitism in that country.
"When l was photographed making that gesture three years ago, I thought it was part of a comedy act and did not know that it could be in any way offensive or harmful," Parker said. "Since I have been made aware of the seriousness of this gesture, I will certainly never repeat the gesture and sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding or harm relating to my actions. Hopefully this incident will serve to educate others that we need to be more aware that things that may seem innocuous can actually have a history of hate and hurt."
The league issued a statement Tuesday, saying "we spoke to both players and are satisfied that they were not aware that this gesture had any hateful connotations when they used it."
The controversy involving Parker and Diaw comes after French soccer player Nicolas Anelka displayed the quenelle following a goal he scored Saturday for his English Premier League team, West Bromwich Albion, in a match against West Ham United. Anelka, who has a history of being involved in various controversies, later said the gesture was meant as a salute to his friend, the comedian known just as Dieudonne.
The quenelle, which is performed by holding one arm straight by one's side while touching that arm's shoulder with the opposite hand, has been called a reverse Nazi salute. It has been popularized by Dieudonne, who is a well-known actor, comedian and political figure in France.
Dieudonne has said the gesture is a symbol of defiance. In France, anti-Semitic symbols and speech are banned, and Dieudonne has been convicted of such speech in the past. In the wake of Anelka's actions, France's interior minister Manuel Valls has said he will seek to ban Dieudonne from performing in public over safety concerns.
One leading Jewish rights organization thought Parker's statement fell short.
"The Simon Wiesenthal Center takes Mr. Parker at his word. There is however, one more crucial step that he needs to take: a statement in French to reassure 600,000 French Jews and the multitude of his young fans in France that he disassociates himself from the quenelle salute and everything it stands for," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the center.