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May 15, 2011

Milestone: NBA top exec comes out – president and chief executive of the Phoenix Suns Rick Welts

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With all of the recent discussion about public homophobic comments by sports figures, it is of great interest that executive leadership of sports teams speak out and up against homophobia. And this news is surely a blockbuster that will keep the dialogue going (NYT):

Last month, in a Midtown office adorned with sports memorabilia, two longtime friends met for a private talk. David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, sipped his morning coffee, expecting to be asked for career advice. Across from him sat Rick Welts, the president and chief executive of the Phoenix Suns, who had come to New York not to discuss careers, but to say, finally, I am gay.

In many work environments, this would qualify as a so-what moment. But until now, Mr. Welts, 58, who has spent 40 years in sports, rising from ball boy to N.B.A. executive to team president, had not felt comfortable enough in his chosen field to be open about his sexuality. His eyes welling at times, he also said that he planned to go public.

…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.”

It’s a long feature and a good read. It’s ironic that after he had that conversation with Stern, the next day Kobe Bryant called a referee a f*ggot.

This kind of milestone — showing that gays are involved in teams sports all along the food chain — up to the top, and that irresponsible, hateful and ignorant remarks denigrate people they work with and know. It’s beyond past-time to address these last bastions of tolerated homophobia in the name of masculinity.


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