The Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team delivered a stinging punishment to its team captain on Monday, a day after Guy Panini called a rival player a Nazi and said he hoped both the player and his father would develop cancer.
Pnini was stripped of his captain’s title for the rest of the season and suspended indefinitely from the team, along with a team-imposed fine of NIS 100,000 (roughly $25,000), to be paid to a charitable organization, for his heckling of Hapoel Tel Aviv player Jonathan Skjöldebrand during a game with Maccabi’s crosstown rivals on Sunday.
Throughout the game, Pnini taunted Skjöldebrand, a Swedish-Israeli player with blond hair and blue eyes, calling him a “German Nazi,” “a son of a bitch” and “trash” — and wishing him “brain cancer.” At pone point, Pnini taunted his opponent and then, inching toward Skjöldebrand, whispered, “May your father die.”
Skjöldebrand, meanwhile, remained composed and ignored Pnini.
The moment was picked up by courtside cameras, which enabled lip-reading experts at a sports channel to decipher the captain’s taunts. The clip was broadcast repeatedly on Israeli television Monday and caused a stir among basketball enthusiasts.
Pundits weighed in and voiced strong opposition to Pnini’s behavior.
“This was first-class hypocrisy and bullying that doesn’t befit such a large sports club,” Zohar Israel, of Channel 2 News, wrote on Monday. “Pnini] doesn’t deserve to wear the national team’s jersey, either.”
A crestfallen, tearful Pnini responded to the team’s castigation by conveying his “sincere apologies” to Skjöldebrand and his family, the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team and his fans — and to his own family and relatives, “many of whom died in the Holocaust,” he said.
“I apologize for my behavior,” he said. “I feel I have disappointed the league, the club, the fans and my family. I will do all that I can to make up for my mistake.”