Phoenix Suns president and CEO Rick Welts chipped away at one of professional sports’ largest barriers on Sunday as he told The New York Times he’s gay, making him the first prominent executive in the professional sports industry to announce his homosexuality.
“This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits,” Welts told The Times. “Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation.”
There has yet to be an active player or major executive to announce his homosexuality in all of men’s sports, but that didn’t stop Welts, who has been with the Suns since 2002, from paving the way for the future.
The 58-year-old brought up the topic when he met with friend and former colleague David Stern some time last month — the day before Kobe Bryant rattled off a homophobic slur that cost him $100K – to come out about his sexuality. He then turned to Steve Nash, Hall of Famer Bill Russell and WNBA president Val Ackerman to share the news.
Not only is Welts the first executive type to do this, he’s certainly the first of his stature and prowess. Welts is as well-respected as they come in the sports industry. He all but created the blueprint for the All-Star Weekend that the NBA uses today, played a huge role in launching the WNBA and worked with Stern in the NBA office from 1982-99.
Since starting his career as a Seattle Supersonics ball boy, Welts has been knee-deep in the sports industry for 40 years and gained the support of the entire Phoenix Suns organization after his announcement on Sunday.
Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told ESPN’s Chris Broussard that he had a feeling that Welts was gay, but made it clear that it does nothing to change their friendship and professional working relationship.
“To me, what does it matter? I know he’s great at his job; he’s very organized and he does a brilliant job,” Gentry said. “To me, (his sexuality) is irrelevant.”
“I’m happy for Rick because I think it takes a ton of weight off his shoulders,” Gentry added. “I’m glad for him because it puts him in a more relaxed state. Do I look at him any differently or judge him any differently? Not in a million years. I’ve dealt with Rick for the last seven years and he’s a great CEO and a great person.”
Nash also supported his president and said it’s too bad that during this day and age an announcement like this has to be considered groundbreaking.
“I think it’s a shame, for all the obvious reasons, that this is a leap that he has to take,” Nash said. “Anyone who’s not ready for this needs to catch up. … He’s doing anyone who’s not ready for this a favor.”
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