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The NBL, Australia’s premier basketball league, has emphasised the importance of “respect at all times” following derogatory comments from a seasoned player targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

Perth Wildcats’ star Corey Webster, reacted to a tweet featuring the Progress Pride flag with the words “mental illness.” The 34-year-old athlete, renowned for winning three NBL championships with the New Zealand Breakers, faced backlash and subsequently deleted his tweet. Later, he posted “PROTECT THE CHILDREN” and deactivated his account.

Webster expressed remorse through an official apology on the Wildcats’ platform, admitting his comments were hurtful. He also announced a hiatus from social media to educate himself and understand the gravity of his words.

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David Stevenson, NBL’s CEO, labelled Webster’s remarks as “damaging and thoughtless” but acknowledged the player’s subsequent apology. He stressed the league’s commitment to fostering a culture of inclusivity and respect.

This controversy emerged just before Webster was scheduled to play against Isaac Humphries of the 36ers, the sole openly gay player in any global men’s professional basketball league. However, in a last-minute decision, the Wildcats benched Webster from the game.

Humphries, who had opened up about his sexuality a year ago, is currently collaborating with the R U OK? Foundation, focusing on mental health and suicide prevention, due to his personal experience.

In a show of support for the LGBTQ+ community, the NBL inaugurated its Pride Round two months after Humphries’ announcement. This event spotlighted Trevor Torrance, a retired basketball player and two-time champion with the Wildcats, who opened up about his sexuality for the first time. The initiative was widely acclaimed, even though some Cairns Taipans players opted out of donning rainbow-themed jerseys.

Reaffirming their commitment to inclusion, both the NBL and the Wildcats’ parent company, SEN Teams, declared that the Pride Round would return in the 2023-24 season. Richard Simkiss, CEO of SEN Teams, highlighted their consistent support for this endeavour and their anticipation for the forthcoming season.

The NBL’s next season is set to kick off on September 28, with a significant matchup between the Wildcats and the 36ers on October 6 in Perth. It is still uncertain if Webster will be part of this game. The Wildcats reiterated Webster’s remorse and acknowledged the potential consequences of his actions.

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