SBD/May 17, 2011/People and Pop Culture

Suns' Rick Welts Discusses The Aftermath Of Announcement That He Is Gay

Welts said he has been overwhelmed by the positive response he has received
Suns President & CEO RICK WELTS first "began thinking about going public" with his homosexuality in January after a "conversation with a friend,” according to Paola Boivin of the ARIZONA REPUBLIC. Welts later met with representatives of the N.Y. Times, who "said they wanted to put the story on the front page of the newspaper.” The editors “were adamant, though, that he keep quiet about it so it didn't leak.” Welts said the response from the Suns "has been amazing." He added that he “had a long, supportive conversation” with Suns Owner ROBERT SARVER Sunday night. Welts now is “dealing with the aftermath, which includes interviews with Time Magazine, Forbes, National Public Radio, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, the Seattle Times, CNN, MSNBC and ESPN.” He said feedback has been "100 percent positive" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 5/17). In N.Y., Marc Berman notes “six months ago, Welts called his friend of 30 years,” filmmaker DAN KLORES, for “advice and later hired the Klores public relations firm to handle the matter.” Welts: "The question with me: Was there something good that could be done by telling my story publicly? It was a year process. The young people out there living a life not much different than mine, I want them to feel they can follow their passion” (N.Y. POST, 5/17).

ENCOURAGING RESPONSE: Welts said of the reaction to his announcement, "I am overwhelmed by the response to this point which I think encourages me to figure out some way to stay active in this or a related cause." ESPN's Bill Simmons noted, "One of the remarkable things about this story is the attitude ... that people don't really care." Simmons: "There's no backlash with this" ("The B.S. Report," ESPN Radio, 6/16). Welts added, "I have to admit, it's pretty moving to read some of the emails I've gotten from people I don't even know who, for whatever reason, felt they wanted to reach out and say, 'Thank you for doing what you've done and here's my story and here's what I'm thinking about now.' That's pretty powerful.” He added, “I've never felt any hostility in the work environment. But there is this kind of silence about (homosexuality) where we just agree not to talk about it. I think the NBA is further along in all (civil rights) issues. It's a far more diverse culture. I think the NBA is ahead of the pro sports curve, but that still is way behind where society is right now" (SEATTLE TIMES, 5/17).

STEP IN RIGHT DIRECTION: TRUEHOOP’s Henry Abbott noted Welts “provides an inspiring role model for homosexuals in sports, but also -- and this matters -- political heft.” This “might mark the beginning of the NBA and its teams becoming somewhat welcoming work environments for homosexuals, which they have not generally been.” Abbott: “The evidence: zero of the NBA's 3,000 plus NBA players has come out of the closet while playing in the league, while it's not all that uncommon for players to be caught using anti-gay slurs” (ESPN.com, 5/16). Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said Welts' announcement was "encouraging." Paige: "It was significant because when you have CEOs and major executives in any industry that will come out and announce that they are gay, I think it creates a new atmosphere in our country, not only in that sport." Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw: "It's got to be significant and I applaud him for doing it. It will be bigger in the future when an athlete does it, when an athlete currently in his prime still on a team does it. But this is maybe a nice first step" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 5/16).

TIME FOR A PLAYER TO SPEAK UP: In Philadelphia, John Smallwood writes if Welts “thinks he’s made some culture-changing announcement, he hasn’t.” Smallwood: “This is not to diminish Welts’ bravery, but a chief executive officer or a team president is not a player or coach. And in the grand scheme of things in the sports world, his coming out will have about as much impact as if I were gay and came out” (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 5/17). In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel wrote, “It is a big deal. It would have been a massive deal 10 years ago. It says something about society if this story registers a ho-hum reaction. The bigger story will be when an active pro athlete from one of the four major sports leagues admits that he is gay” (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 5/16). In Orlando, Shannon Owens writes, “Quite frankly, it's time for one of these guys to speak up. The silence of closeted gay NFL, NBA and MLB players erodes the opportunity for real dialogue about more respectful language and behavior towards homosexuals in sports.” Owens adds, “But the move toward respect and tolerance in sports won't take root until conversations in the locker rooms change. That is the place where unity is created or destroyed” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 5/17). Welts said the player that "makes that first decision is going to be incredibly courageous, because careers are short and endorsements are hard to come by and your next contract is still a ways away" ("The B.S. Report," ESPN.com, 5/16). 
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