NBL rocked by pride jersey fisasco as Cairns Taipans players fire up

The NBL is hoping to avoid a Manly Sea Eagles style controversy after Cairns Taipans players opted out of wearing a Pride jersey.

Cairns Taipans players are pictured left, with Isaac Humphries seen on the right.
Several unnamed Cairns Taipans players will opt out of wearing a special jersey for the NBL Pride Round, announced after Melbourne United's Isaac Humphries came out as gay. Pictures: Getty Images

A handful of Cairns Taipans players have will reportedly opt out of wearing specially designed jersey's during the NBL's upcoming Pride Round, citing religious beliefs as the reason behind their decision. The league announced the inaugural round in recognition of LGBTIQ+ players and fans on Monday, however comparisons have already been drawn to the memorable refusal of several Manly Sea Eagles players to wear a pride jersey during the 2022 NRL season.

The NBL has incorporated a pride logo into regular team jersey for the nine matches upcoming this week, with ABPA CEO Jacob Holmes saying the round had been implemented with support of the players. NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger expected some players may not warm to pride round but that the initiative was nevertheless worth pursuing.

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Players have been given the option of not donning the logo, with several Cairns Taipans players reportedly choosing not to support the round. Loeliger acknowledged some players in the league would not be in board with the move.

However the announcement of the Pride Round was largely well-received, with the move welcomed by Melbourne United star Isaac Humphries. The NBL's first openly gay player, the former NBA big man said it had been brilliant to see the support since his reveal earlier in the year.

"Since I made my announcement, not only has it made me feel free and happy, but it has also inspired me to help create serious change and set an example that you can be a professional athlete, or anything you want to be, and still be gay," he said.

"The support I have received has been overwhelming and I've been so thankful for that. The challenge now is to help others on their journey and make a real change."

Humphries has not commented on reports of the stance of certain Taipans players. In a separately released statement, Loeliger said the Pride Round had been established whilst being mindful that not all players in the NBL would be on board.

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"We acknowledge, at times, there will be challenges with various stances we take as an organisation and they may conflict with some people's beliefs," he said in a statement. "Regardless, we will continue to work together to support each other, and we will always respect that people may have different views, opinions and values to ours.

"Basketball is for everyone and we have always been strong advocates for diversity and inclusion. We will do all we can to ensure the NBL is a community where everyone is welcomed and supported, and individuals are encouraged to be themselves without fear of discrimination or judgement."

Cairns Taipans avoid fallout over NBL Pride Round move

Fortunately for the Taipans, the NBL's consultation over the Pride Round appears likely to ensure they avoid the issues that emerged for Manly last year. Seven players opted to sit out the club's Pride Round, ultimately contributing to a seven-game losing streak to end the season.

That losing streak was enough for them to miss out on a potential finals spot, as well as contributing to the demise of head coach Des Hasler.

Manly chairman Scott Penn also staunchly insisted after the controversy that his club would go ahead with plans to wear the rainbow jerseys again in 2023, however, new CEO Tony Mestrov has since moved to hose down that suggestion. Mestrov - brought in after the damage had already been done at the club - admitted the Sea Eagles failed by not consulting the playing group before launching the rainbow jersey initiative.

Melbourne United's Isaac Humphries looks to pass the ball during an NBL game.
Melbourne United's Isaac Humphries, the NBL's first openly gay player, welcomed the addition of the Pride Round to the league calendar (Photo by Morgan Hancock/Getty Images)

“I wasn’t here at the time, but from the people who do know me being here now, it’s about communication. There’s no way that for any reason the players shouldn’t have been communicated to," he said. "From day one since I got here – I don’t profess to be the coach – (my mantra has been) clear communication from everyone in the organisation, including the players.

“If we can do that in the future, whatever it might be, everyone knows where they stand. I think that’s the most important part about this club moving forward, including the local community, the local sponsors and the local juniors. We should communicate clearly, and we’ve got a clear direction here as well.”

With AAP

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