The Cairns Taipans NBL team have released a statement from its players, revealing the club will “opt out” of the league’s Pride Round jerseys.
And the NBL have immediately responded, revealing the Pride jerseys will not be mandated for any player or team who choses not to wear it.
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The drama erupted earlier in the week when it was reported several Taipans players were “hesitant” to wear a rainbow logo on their jerseys due to their religious beliefs.
The logo is on the jersey manufacturer Champion’s logo, which sits just under the collar.
But within an hour of their clash with the South East Melbourne Phoenix on Wednesday night, the Taipans released a statement saying no players would wear the logo.
“To our fans, friends, and basketball family,” the statement began.
“We are pleased to be participating in Champion Pride Round and join our club and the league in the promotion of inclusion and diversity this season.
“We are all here because we love the game of basketball, and we hope there is a safe space in our sport that respects everyone equally, without discrimination.
“We all bring different backgrounds, cultures and experiences to the group, and we embrace the diversity of our team. We don’t have to agree with each other, to love each other.
“Some of us have LGBTIQA+ people in our families and want nothing more than to represent them in a positive and spirited way.
“This initiative should be a celebration; however, our team has already been subjected to a barrage of abuse and harmful commentary that has led to individuals being targeted and shamed.
“This is a negative distraction to what should be a positive experience across the game, and now we feel as though our only choice as a team is to collectively opt out of this season’s uniforms.
“This is not a reflection of our individual stances or personal views, but a protection of our brothers that are being set up to be vilified and no longer feel as though they have a safe space in our sport.
“Positive change requires positive action, and we believe we can champion different people and groups in our society without persecuting others in the process.
“We hope everyone finds it in their hearts to understand.
“We love all of you, and this week, we particularly love the LGBTIQA+ community.
“Time to hoop.”
The letter was signed by the Taipans’ playing group.
But at halftime in the clash, Phoenix player Mitch Creek said it was important to him to show his support.
“It’s Pride Round,” he said of his custom shoes for the occasion.
“It’s an immense occasion. We have to have this conversation unfortunately. It’s a part of the world and everybody love everybody you know. It’s a classic saying but love is love no matter who you are or where you come from.
“So I’m just trying to show my support to my friends, my family and everybody else out here.”
The NBL responded with a statement of its own from executive chairman and owner Larry Kestelman.
“The NBL acknowledges the overwhelming amount of support we have received following the launch of our inaugural Pride Round, and will continue to create a place where all people feel safe and can be themselves, with no judgment,” the statement read.
“This means having important conversations about diversity and inclusion and making sure we continue to work together from a position of love, care and support.
“The NBL fully respects and understands that there may be people in the community with different views to those being conveyed through the Champion Pride Round. Hence we have not mandated that our players have to wear the Pride jersey and if any player or team elect not to wear the jersey, we will respect that decision.”
Former NBL player AJ Ogilvy: “To everyone who said “the @NBL doesn’t need a pride round” – this is why they do.”
The Daily Telegraph’s sports editor James Silver added: “Cairns making Manly’s handling of their debacle look professional.”
ESPN reporter Steve Smith posted: “‘We are pleased to be participating in Pride Round …’ Except you’re so very clearly not. Just disgraceful.”
The Pride drama isn’t the first and likely will not be the last.
Most famously in an Australian context was Manly’s debacle where seven players refused to play after the club revealed its first Pride jersey and the Sea Eagles season went into free-fall.
Talk of internal rifts at the club dominated the remainder of the season.
The timing also reflects poorly after Melbourne United star Isaac Humphries came out as the first openly gay player in a top tier men’s basketball league last November.
It comes after Taipans coach Adam Forde and Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell appeared to have some common ground over the drama, Newscorp reported.
“It’s a great initiative by the NBL,” Forde said.
“We’re about inclusion and freedom of choice – live and let live.
“This is the beauty of what the message is, everybody has freedom of choice that they can be comfortable with themselves and not be segregated or excluded because of it.”
Mitchell said: “I don’t think we can thrust enlightenment upon people — they’ve got to find it.
“Religion or organised religion and beliefs based upon it is a difficult road to navigate.
“I’m not a remotely religious man, but I hope we deal with these players with all the respect that they deserve and hopefully at some point in time they come to acknowledge that supporting other groups in our community doesn’t necessarily mean you’re adopting a lifestyle or giving up your beliefs.”