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Suns President & CEO RICK WELTS met with several colleagues and friends over the last month to tell them he is gay and that he "wants to pierce the silence that envelops the subject of homosexuality in men’s team sports," according to a front-page story by Dan Barry of the N.Y. TIMES. Until now, the 58-year-old Welts, who has "spent 40 years in sports, rising from ball boy to NBA executive to team president, had not felt comfortable enough in his chosen field to be open about his sexuality." Welts said, "This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits. Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation." But now, Welts "wants to be a mentor to gay people who harbor doubts about a sports career, whether on the court or in the front office," and "most of all, he wants to feel whole, authentic." Barry notes Welts last month shared his news with NBA Commissioner DAVID STERN, a longtime friend, and also received support from former WNBA President VAL ACKERMAN, Suns G STEVE NASH and Basketball HOFer BILL RUSSELL. Stern "did not find the discussion with Mr. Welts awkward or even surprising; he had long known that his friend was gay, but never felt that he had license to broach the subject." Welts recalls his conversation with Stern, "He was supportive but didn't ask questions." Stern: "What I didn’t say at the time was: I think there’s a good chance the world will find this unremarkable. I don’t know if I was confusing my thoughts with my hopes." Barry notes Nash "was surprised; he thought that everyone already knew that Mr. Welts was gay." Nash said, "I just think it’s a shame, for all the obvious reasons, that this is a leap that he has to take. ... He’s doing anyone who’s not ready for this a favor" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/16).
GETTING POSITIVE FEEDBACK: USA TODAY's Shuster & Zillgitt report the N.Y. Times published the story on Welts while he "was in the air on a cross-country flight." Welts today said that it has been "a 'surreal beginning' to the past 24 hours when he turned on his Blackberry as soon [as] wheels touched ground." Welts: "I would not be ashamed to admit there were a few tears rolling down my cheeks from the amazing emails and texts that were waiting for me when I landed. That literally didn't stop until I turned off my phone last night at 11 o'clock. I have no idea (how many). Maybe it was 100. Maybe it was more. It was team presidents. It was members of my ownership group. It was co-workers. It was people who I had worked with before. Friends, family." It is "not by coincidence" that he spoke with Stern, Nash and Russell before publicizing his news. Welts said, "If you really look at the histories of those three people, they individually have all done exactly that throughout their careers -- been a catalyst for discussion. All three of them are very passionate individuals about what's right and what's wrong. None of them have ever been afraid to take a stand whether it was popular or unpopular. You couldn't have better allies in the discussion" (USATODAY.com, 5/16).
STEPPING UP: In Phoenix, Paola Boivin writes under the header, "Rick Welts, Phoenix Suns Show They Are True Leaders." Boivin: "Good for you, Rick Welts, for sharing your story so others entering the sports arena feel comfortable doing the same. ... Are you listening, NBA players? Time to follow the Suns' lead" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 5/16). The AP noted Welts' declaration is the "latest development" on a subject that "has gained attention in the sports world recently" (AP, 5/15). SPORTING NEWS’ Sean Deveney wrote Welts’ announcement could be a “groundbreaking moment for major professional sports” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 5/15). SLAM magazine writes, “In the macho world of pro sports, it’s very rare for anyone -- from players, coaches, to front-office personnel -- to come out of the closet, but Rick Welts took the brave step forward” (SLAMONLINE.com, 5/16). YAHOO SPORTS’ Eric Freeman writes, “On Sunday, the NBA may have witnessed a watershed moment in its relationship with the LGBT community…. Welts has made history, and we should applaud him for it” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/16). In Seattle, Scott Sunde writes, “Not a big deal for much of the world, but earth-shattering news in the world of professional sports” (SEATTLEPI.com, 5/16). Magic Senior VP Pat Williams on Twitter writes, “Will this be a huge NBA story?” (TWITTER.com, 5/16).
Twins President DAVE ST. PETER said that MLB Commissioner BUD SELIG has appointed Twins Owner JIM POHLAD to the MLB Finance Committee (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/16)....California Institute of Technology named Allegheny College Dir of Athletics & Recreation BETSY MITCHELL Dir of Athletics, Recreation & Physical Education. She is the school's first full-time female AD (Caltech)....Indiana Univ. Southeast promoted Assistant AD JOE GLOVER to AD (IU Southeast)....NBA sources said that AUSTIN AINGE is "finalizing a deal to return to the Boston Celtics' front office as a player personnel executive." Ainge, the son of Celtics President of Basketball Operations DANNY AINGE, will "rejoin the organization where he had previously served as a scout" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/13)....VenuWorks Dir of Support Services JOHN SIEHL will add the responsibilities of Hara Arena Exec Dir (VenuWorks)....The Omaha Sports Commission named Irving (Texas) Convention & Visitors Bureau Sports & Entertainment Department National Sales Manager KEITH STATION Assistant Dir (OSC)....The AHL Lake Erie Monsters named DAVID AITKEN Account Exec (THE DAILY).
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In Minneapolis, Michael Russo reported the parents of late Rangers LW DEREK BOOGAARD on Saturday "signed paperwork to have their oldest son's brain donated to science." The decision came one day after news that Boogaard, a "beloved former Wild enforcer," had died in his Minneapolis apartment. His brain will be donated to Boston Univ.'s Sports Legacy Institute, which is seeking to "advance the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes." Boogaard "suffered multiple concussions in his career, although the decision by the Boogaards should not lead to a presumption that their son died of complications from brain trauma" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 5/15). Fans "flocked to Xcel Energy Center on Sunday night to pay their respects to Boogaard's devastated family." Boogaard will be cremated today (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/16). More than 300 Wild fans attended the memorial, as did "many in the Wild's front office and scouting staff." The video boards outside of the arena "had scrolling pictures of Boogaard, inside there was video of Boogaard on a reel" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/16).
DEALING WITH HIS DIAGNOSIS: Golf announcer DAVID FEHERTY revealed he has been “diagnosed as bipolar.” In Dallas, Barry Horn noted Feherty has “battled myriad addictions for years, always on the lookout for what may have triggered them,” and the recent bipolar diagnosis “may be another clue.” He maintains that “he is sober these days and battling hard not to fall off the wagon as he has done too many times in the past.” In his “desperate attempt to keep busy, he is consumed now by long predawn bicycle rides.” Feherty also has gotten involved with “Troops First Foundation,” which “among other good deeds works with wounded soldiers who come home without limbs or have been severely disfigured” (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/15).
MUSIC TO HIS EARS: Sources indicated that Knicks F AMAR’E STOUDEMIRE is “hoping to add the music business to his mogul portfolio.” Stoudemire already has “established himself in fashion by launching a line” with designer RACHEL ROY that will debut in September. Now the Knicks star “hopes to parlay his friendships with some of hip hop’s most successful performers and producers into a recording career.” The source said producers “will be giving him the beats” and Stoudemire “will be rapping on the tracks” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/16).
CHARITY STRIPE: NASCAR has partnered with the Armed Forces Foundation to start the “TROOPS TO THE TRACK” program “to recognize and host members of the Armed Forces at NASCAR races.” The program provides more than 100 “wounded service members, or service members in jobs particularly emotional and physically demanding, an opportunity to enjoy a VIP-style NASCAR race day experience” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/15)….Falcons draftee JULIO JONES volunteered in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Thursday, handing out T-shirts and trying to “lift the spirits of downtrodden tornado victims.” Jones played college football at the Univ. of Alabama (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 5/14).
NAMES: The Packers’ sixth annual Tailgate Tour “wrapped up Saturday with a final stop at Green Bay East High School.” The tour included “stops in 12 cities, more than 700 miles and plenty of interaction” between fans, Packers President & CEO MARK MURPHY and current and former players (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 5/15)....Patriots Owner ROBERT KRAFT and his family hosted a house party for the Boys & Girls Club over the weekend that raised $2.7M (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/16)....Online gambling company PokerStars on Friday said that it "has returned more than $100 million to U.S. gamblers since it reached an agreement with government prosecutors last month that allowed Americans to cash out their accounts" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 5/14).