Rick Welts, the CEO and president of basketball team the Phoenix Suns, has publicly come out as gay in a profile for the New York Times.
In the profile Welts, 58, details the great burden that keeping his sexual orientation secret has placed on him, perhaps no more so than when his long term partner died in 1994 due to complications resulting from AIDS.
Welts was not able to fully mourn for his partner and felt he had to continue to censor himself so as not to damage his career in such a heteronormative environment as top-flight sport. A subsequent 14-year relationship with another man would again end badly in part because of Welts’ feeling that he was unable to end what he terms his “shadow life.”
This is something he now wants to leave behind, and if his decision to go public can help others, all the better.
From the New York Times:
In these meetings and in interviews with The New York Times, Mr. Welts explained that he wants to pierce the silence that envelops the subject of homosexuality in men’s team sports. He wants to be a mentor to gay people who harbor doubts about a sports career, whether on the court or in the front office. Most of all, he wants to feel whole, authentic.
“This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits,” said Mr. Welts, who stands now as a true rarity, a man prominently employed in professional men’s team sports, willing to declare his homosexuality. “Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation.”
Dr. Richard Lapchick, the founder and director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, and the son of the basketball legend Joe Lapchick, agreed. “The fact that there’s no other man who has done this before speaks directly to how hard it must be for Rick to do this now,” he said.
The profile touches on a recent incident involving Kobe Bryant where the Lakers player aimed a gay slur at a referee during a game. Bryant was subsequently fined $100,000 (which, while admitting fault he is now appealing).
The New York Times profile suggests the Bryant incident, and in particular the swift action it prompted from the NBA, also showed a change in tone as to how seriously homophobia is dealt with in the game, indicating small but significant progress.
Welts’ presence in the game, and in such a prominent role, cannot fail to help emphasize that point, and while Welts’ decision to come out will not mean an overnight purging of homophobia, one can’t help but think that it might be a quiet game changer, or at least the beginnings of one.