It was 10 years ago that I first met Rick Welts. He had been a high-powered executive at the NBA and I asked him why, at the time, he didn't come out. I remember him not being a big fan of the question, more ignoring the topic than anything else. Still, he was a nice man and very smart and his partner was just great. In the next 10 years, according to the New York Times, his remaining in the closet cost him that great partner and left him thinking about coming out. Today, now the President and CEO of the Phoenix Suns, he has done just that.
After Brendan Burke died last year, I wrote a column in part wondering what it was going to take for millionaire-executive like Welts (whose name I didn't use) to join the teenagers in doing the heavy lifting of bringing gay equality to sports:
I know a very high-level NBA executive who is gay. He has lived as a gay man since before I met him 10 years ago. I wonder what he thought when he saw the reaction to Brendan’s story in November. Here was a kid who had aspirations of rising up the ranks of professional sports and who put it all on the line to do some good for society; Brendan decided that being an example for young gay people, and tearing down another homophobic wall in sports, was more important than his own career potential.
Already there, the closeted NBA executive sits in his posh office, reads that story, and says, “Eh, let the college kids make the changes; I have to worry about my next million dollars.” He tells himself lies about how it doesn’t matter what his sexuality is; It doesn’t matter so much that he won’t talk about it. He deludes himself that his private life should remain private; Even though his coming out publicly would change the face of professional basketball and provide inspiration to millions.
It may have taken a while, but Welts has finally joined the throngs of teenagers and twentysomethings. And I couldn't be happier about it. Welts is a man of character and intelligence who can speak on a level where we've been yearning to find a voice. Welts' career is the product of hard work and determination. He's exactly the kind of person who can create a seismic shift in sports. People look for the superstar athletes to come out; The reason I've been hoping Welts would some day talk publicly about it is that I know this will have far-reaching implications in the sports power-structure. The power of his coming out can be seen in the article with guys like David Stern, Steve Nash and Bill Russell coming to his side. It advances the dialog and opens the opportunities for allies to speak about the issue. Thank you, Rick, and all of the goodness your coming-out will do.