Isaac Humphries, the only openly gay athlete in a top-tier male basketball league, has spoken out against the Cairns Taipans players' decision to collectively not wear its Pride Round jersey.
Australia's National Basketball League began its inaugural Pride Round this week, with each team's jersey featuring rainbow colours on the small logo on the chest. The Taipans chose not to wear the Pride Round jersey during Wednesday evening's game against the South East Melbourne Phoenix, with the team claiming to support the NBL's "promotion of inclusion and diversity" but cited the "barrage of abuse and harmful commentary that has led to individuals being targeted and shamed."
Humphries, who plays for Melbourne United and is the only openly gay player in the NBL, responded to the Taipans' decision, in a statement provided to ESPN on Friday.
"My teammates are like family. Like family, I will always come from a place of love and acceptance. So, when it comes to inclusion, I will always stand up and speak out when needed for my sport, for my community, and I'm disappointed for my LGBTQ+ family of athletes and coaches who live silently in the closet," Humphries said.
"If we are going to move forward with true equality, equity and inclusion in sport for LGBTQ+ athletes, we have to start by getting honest. We have to acknowledge there is a problem. The obligation is on all of us, no matter where in the sport power matrix we live. In the meantime, I will continue to encourage us all to come together, respect each other, lift each other up, and I will use my platform to give voice to the voiceless. Each of us needs to ask ourselves: what kind of courage did we display when our leadership moment arrived?"
Humphries came out as gay in November of 2022, in an emotional video where he also revealed the mental health struggles he experienced while coming to terms with his sexuality.
Prior to the round, the NBL allowed players to opt out of wearing its team's Pride Round jersey. The Taipans had one player with a religious objection, sources told ESPN. Reports of that objection surfaced in the days leading into Wednesday's game, which led to the team's decision to not wear the jersey with a rainbow logo, claiming they were subjected to "targeted attacks". The Taipans have two more games this round.
The expectation is that the remainder of the league's players and teams will wear their respective Pride Round jerseys.
Dean Vickerman, United's head coach, spoke at a Thursday media availability about the Taipans' decision and what he hopes comes from it.
"For me, it just shows that we need to continue (to) further education," Vickerman said.
"Any time there's change in our league, we've got to support it with education. (The Taipans' decision) has brought a little bit of a voice to what this round is about. There's going to be debate about it and people are going to talk about it... There's always going to be two different views, and hopefully we can educate people enough to get on the same page."
He continued: "What we've experienced this (season) with Isaac... and the education process we've gone through as a club... and referring back to Isaac's speech about just making sure that everybody feels included in the sport and not being a kid like him that he's got to hide away, and (it's just) about being that inclusive sport that we want everybody to have the opportunity to play.
"We're a club that stands strong in our beliefs and we stood strong behind Isaac and now we go over and wear the logo very proudly and hopefully we represent the community and Isaac really well in the way that we go and play."
Former Kentucky, NBA and now NBL player Isaac Humphries speaks to his teammates about coming to terms with his sexuality, and the mental health challenges he's dealt with in recent years.
Following Wednesday evening's game -- a Taipans loss -- the Phoenix's head coach, Simon Mitchell, spoke about his support for the NBL's Pride Round initiative, and hearkened back to Humphries' coming out story.
"We've had this thing with Isaac this year, and him coming out, and talking about the issues that he's gone through, and some of the depths of despair he's gone through," Mitchell said in the post-game press conference.
"If that doesn't hurt everyone in our league, to a degree, it's like, man, I wanna pick a brother up. I don't have a relationship with Isaac, but I... shook his hand and said I'm proud of him, when we played Melbourne. And I hate Melbourne.
"To know there's people out there feeling that way; we've got to open our arms to them, and make sure they know we're a safe place, and we're an ally, and we're friends. Your sexual orientation, or how you identify, doesn't matter to us. Who you are matters to us."
Humphries' United play their Pride Round game on Saturday, in a matchup with the New Zealand Breakers.