SBD/May 16, 2011/People and Pop Culture

Suns President & CEO Rick Welts Reveals He's Gay, Wants To Be Mentor

Welts talked to David Stern, Val Ackerman before making his news public
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).
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