Australia’s elite pro basketball league the NBL has issued a statement urging “respect at all times” after a veteran player made anti-LGBTQ comments on social media.

In response to a tweet Sunday night containing an image of the Progress Pride flag and the question, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you see this flag?” Perth Wildcats guard Corey Webster replied “mental illness.”

Following criticism, the 34-year-old — who won three NBL titles with the New Zealand Breakers between 2011 and 2015 — deleted his tweet. He later tweeted “PROTECT THE CHILDREN” and locked his account although as of Tuesday, Webster’s account no longer exists on the X platform.

In a statement published on the Wildcats website, Webster said he was “sincerely sorry.”

“I understand the hurt my comments have caused,” said Webster.

The statement concluded: “I will take a break from social media and use that time to better educate myself on the impact comments such as this can make on individuals I may have offended.”

The NBL’s statement followed shortly afterward, with CEO David Stevenson labeling Webster’s comments “insensitive and harmful” although he noted the player’s apology.

“We all must work together to encourage everyone to be themselves,” he added.

“There will always be challenges when stances and beliefs conflict with one another, but as an organization we are committed to working together and supporting one another, with respect at all times.”

NBL CEO David Stevenson.

On Tuesday night, the Wildcats faced Adelaide 36ers as part of the NBL Blitz pre-season tournament in Gold Coast.

That could have meant Webster sharing a court with 36ers centre Isaac Humphries, the world’s only publicly out gay player currently active in a men’s professional league.

However, just hours before tip-off, the Wildcats announced Webster had been stood down from the match.

Humphries has recently been reflecting on the moment he came out publicly a year ago and raising awareness around how to have meaningful conversations as part of his work with Australian suicide prevention charity R U OK?

He told Network 10’s The Project news show last week: “Mental health and suicide prevention are a big passion of mine, given my experience with it.”

Two months after Humphries came out, the NBL held its first Pride Round. As part of that activation, the Wildcats shared the powerful story of Trevor Torrance, a former pro player who won two championships with the club in the 1980s and 90s and who had never spoken publicly before about being gay.

The Pride Round was widely seen as a success, although there were challenges for the NBL when some players from the Cairns Taipans club declined to wear jerseys with rainbows on them.

Nevertheless, in their statement concerning Webster, the NBL confirmed that the Pride Round would be returning for the 2023-24 season.

The LGBTQ inclusion initiative was also referenced in the Wildcats’ statement by Richard Simkiss, the chief executive of SEN Teams which owns the NBL club.

“As a community-driven club, we stand for inclusiveness and have strongly supported the NBL’s Pride Round,” said Simkiss. “We look forward to promoting this initiative again in the upcoming season.”

The NBL season proper begins on Sep. 28, with the Wildcats and the 36ers due to meet again — this time in a competitive fixture — in Round 2 in Perth on Oct. 6.

It remains to be seen whether Webster will be involved again by then. The Wildcats said Tuesday: “Webster wishes to apologise once again, understanding the ramifications of his actions and the potential harm such comments can cause.”