Rick Welts, the President of the Phoenix Suns of the NBA, has come out as gay, hoping to "pierce the silence that envelops the subject of homosexuality in men’s team sports," according to The New York Times.
Welts sat down with a reporter from The Times and told his story. But will he be accepted in a world in which no active athlete has ever admitted being gay?
“This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits,” Welts said. “Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation.”
But Welts said it is a conversation that must be had. The 58-year-old Welts started out as a ballboy with the Seattle SuperSonics when he was just 16. He rose through the ranks of the NBA to become a top executive, keeping his secret to himself.
“It wasn’t talked about,” he said. “It wasn’t a comfortable subject. And it wasn’t my imagination. I was there.”
But Welts said enough was enough -- it was time. He sought counsel before making the move from long-time friend and NBA legend Bill Russell, WNBA commissioner Val Ackerman, and NBA commissioner and mentor David Stern. They were all supportive.
"What I didn’t say at the time was: I think there’s a good chance the world will find this unremarkable,” Stern said. “I don’t know if I was confusing my thoughts with my hopes.”
He also spoke with Suns superstar Steve Nash, who was surprised Welts had to "come out." Nash said he just assumed everyone knew Welts was gay.
“Anyone who’s not ready for this needs to catch up,” Mr. Nash said later. “He’s doing anyone who’s not ready for this a favor.”
So people who know Welts are supportive, but what about others in the male-dominated sports world?
For example, when former NBA player John Amaechi announced that he was gay in 2007, former player Tim Hardaway said that as a rule, he hated gay people.
That is the type of comment that has stopped other gay athletes from coming out. But will Welts' announcement be greeted with understanding that will prompt athletes to emerge from the shadows.
Or will it be greeted with derision that will push them further in?