Phoenix Suns president Rick Welts announces he’s gay

Rick Welts told The New York Times that he is gay in a story published on Sunday.

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.”

Tags: Rick Welts

  • Lloyd

    It’s like when Sarver came out and stuck his nose right into the immigration issue.

    The appropriate response by Sarver should have been, “We have fans on both sides of the issue. We are in the sports business, so we will just keep our focus on winning basketball games and entertaining the fans.”

    That is the professional response to social issues.

    Why does Mr. Welts feel the need to go public on his sexual preference? As a high level executive, it is un-professional to come out with this statement. It has absolutely nothing to do with making the Suns a better team or in making them more attractive as an entertainment value.

    There is no other way to view both the actions of Mr. Sarver and Mr. Welts as nothing more than an embarrassment to the Suns.

    Again, there are fans on both sides of this issue. It is un-professional to take a public stance on either–at least as far as a sports team goes.

    When will they ever learn, that most fans don’t really care what Steve Nash, Elton John, or Mick Jagger think about politics or which particular lifestyle they endorse?

    Hopefully, most folks are intelligent enough to study these issues on their own without the assistance of the above referenced blockheads.

  • deepS

    I’m sorry, but I deeply disagree with your opinion Lloyd. If we lived in an age when sexual preference were as irrelevant as we both seem to agree that it should be, then yes, it would be unprofessional to announce this. Sadly, we do not live in that age, and instead there are many people today who still want to treat homosexuals as second class citizens.

    I don’t think this is an embarrassment to anyone and I am actually proud that the organization supports him. In fact, I think it would be extremely unprofessional for them not to support his announcement. No public organization should support intolerance and hatred and I am very happy that Nash and Gentry came out and showed their support. Frankly, I would be more embarrassed if they didn’t stand by Welts.

    And I DO care a lot about what Steve Nash and Elton John think about politics and I value their thoughts and opinions. I admire what both of them have accomplished and look up to them and I am sure there are many others who feel the same way. If Steve Nash were just some run-of-the-mill arrogant millionaire prick, then I wouldn’t be here cheering him on every game.

  • joe

    lloyd, I do understand your view, but I have the opposite view and view bystander apathy, even if it is in the name of professionality, a bad thing.

    truly it takes people to go out of their way to stand up for minorities of any kind. Politicians are too cowardly to lose votes to do so and often hurt minorities rather than help them until the social scene has changed on it.

    Historically sports has been on the forefront of such issues as well. the colored barrier was broken in sports before it was in other fields, also we have used sports to build friendships and to make statements against other countries as well.

  • Jason

    This was an open secret at the office and nobody cares. Congrats to Mr. Welts for finally coming out. This should be a huge relief for him and it can only help the club. Go Suns!

  • Steve

    I’m with Lloyd on this. I don’t care to know about Tiger’s mistresses, Kobe’s “victim’s,” Ben’s drunk college girls, or Rick Welts’ dudes.

    It doesn’t matter to the job and the service he provides to the organization. If someone had seen him with a guy and asked the question, then sure, I have no problem with this type of an announcement. But to just go for the spotlight to remove some “weight,” it’s unnecessary, unprofessional, and potentially alienating to about half the country.

    While I agree that no one should degrade homosexuals and mistreat them in any way because of their sexual preference, that doesn’t mean that everyone should be “tolerant” and accepting of their life choices. Even if you want to make a biological argument (which wouldn’t really be based on much), there is biological evidence that many disorders such as alcoholism are genetic. Do I have to accept alcoholism as right and just because they can’t help it?

    Onto one last thing that is not a universal truth, but might be closer than you think. I have a number of homosexual friends (probably around 10 I would consider friends and spend a considerable amount of time with), and of these friends, probably seven of them are guys. Not one of those seven has the machismo that is pretty much necessary to make it anywhere in the professional sports world. It takes an extreme amount of pride, arrogance, and brutality (crush anyone who gets in your way mentality) to make it to the top of any profession, and I can’t say I’ve met a single gay man who has that in them.

    That’ NOT a bad thing to not have pride, arrogance, and brutality driving you to the top of a profession, so don’t take that as a knock on gay people. If anything, that is a compliment. However, it’s just an observation I’ve made about gay men I know, gay men I have met, gay men as they show themselves to the world, and gay men as they are portrayed. Could it be that you don’t see many gay professional athletes because there aren’t many?

    I know this is probably going to start a flame war, but my main point I wanted to make is this: Just because someone has the right to do something doesn’t mean anyone else has to agree with it. Relativism is a weak philosophical standpoint that holds no water, and not everyone who disagrees with homosexuality is a homophobe.

  • Lloyd I. Cadle

    I am an insurance broker. The other brokers that I work with all have strong opinions on all of the major issues (as do I), but, it is bad for business to go and flaunt our opinions to our clients.

    The Diamondbacks are very smart to keep politics out of sports. Again, they have fans with varying viewpoints on all of the issues, so, they don’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

    I am a Lutheran Christian (WELS), and a real student of the great reformer Dr. Martin Luther.

    Almost 500 years ago, Luther taught the separation of church and state. (God is not a democrat or a republican!)

    Now you have politicians on all sides misquoting the Bible. Obama misquotes it regarding his healthcare program. Palin misquotes it to fit her political agenda. O’Reilly on Fox news talks about theology, something that he knows nothing about.

    When a politician brings up the Bible, (Obama or Palin), I say, “shut up, I don’t give a crap what you think about God, I elected you to run the country!”

    Nash is great at bouncing a basketball. Elton John is a great singer, as is Mick Jagger (I love the Beatles), but I don’t give a darn about what they think about social or religious issues.

    I am a huge Suns fan. I care about what they think about basketball–nothing else, thank you!

  • Momochi Sandayu

    Playing basketball may be Steve Nash’s job, but that doesn’t mean as a human being he is any less filled with a passion for social reform much like the Dr. Martin Luther you are a real student of.

    It seems like you want Steve Nash to “know his role”, and to ignore the voice in his heart. Using his prominence as someone people look up to for the furthering of what he feels is positive social change, and what is right in his heart is commendable in my opinion.

    I’d take the teachings of Steve Nash over the anti-semitism of Protestant reformer Martin Luther any day, personally. I’m a real Suns fan, and I find it ironic you give your non-basketball two cents on a subject while stating you don’t care about their non-basketball views in the same post.

    Also, Steve Nash is neither Church nor State, so I’ll give him the freedom to stand up as a human being for whatever he wants.

  • Lloyd I. Cadle

    Momochi –

    I was just making a point that each has its place in its own sphere.

    Church and state should not be mixed. Sports is the toy deparment, and many find it as a good escape from real life issues. (Much like going to a movie.)

    I am big on politics, and in the study of theology (much more than sports). But, when I go to a sporting event, it is like going to disneyland. It is a great get-a-way.

    Just shut up and play!

  • joe

    Wait, since when was Martin Luther an anti-semite? People should think before typing.

  • d

    Joe, is not that difficult to use. You just type in what you are looking for and it finds the results for you!

    People should think before typing.

  • Joe

    I’m not condoning Luther’s comments on Jews, in which he used extremely harsh language, at times, but I don’t think you’re putting yourself in his shoes to see what he was actually saying.

    First off, this was 500 years ago. The world was a different place, and we can’t pretend we have any clue about society at the time. Secondly, Luther was raised in a society of intense religious intolerance and oppression. He was one of the first recognizable figures to take a stand against the prevailing institutions, making the claim they couldn’t suppress knowledge an advancement, claiming they had the only way without giving access to the layman. Judaism (like many other religions) has a history of exclusivity, to which Luther objected. They also deny the divinity of the one Luther Recognized as his savior. In Luther’s eyes, Judaism’s intense and repeated denial of Jesus as the Christ was an “unforgivable sin” (denial of the Spirit).

    Again, I’m not saying he was right in his words, but it was a different time and place, where people were regularly killed for religious dissension (as they still are today in many societies, and most people persecuted today aren’t Jews). The entire Catholic institution was in a phase of intense Jewish hatred, and Martin Luther was raised as a Catholic (as was virtually all of Europe). Again, not condoning, but brainwashing will work on anyone if you say something often enough.

    And by the way, Luther’s most intense love was for a Jew.

  • Josh

    I come to this blog every day to read about the Suns basketball, not who has sexual relations with who. When we talk about basketball again, let me know…

    In regards to Momochi–I am an ordained Lutheran pastor who studied Luther in graduate school for four years. I could go on and explain the context here or what Luther said, did, and the complexity of his views and writings. I also could go on to what Lutherans of all strains believe today compared to your cheap shot at Joe and others—but why–this BLOG IS ABOUT BASKETBALL—ENOUGH!

  • GOsuns

    I think most people are missing the point here. Yes this forum is about basketball (nba) but it also media outlet that engages other media such as social issues. You might not give a crap about tigers mistresses but you watch sportscenter all day about how he cant get his game back. Point is players and their associates have lives outside of their respective sport and affects their careers. Embrace it

  • Steve

    I actually don’t watch SC, but thanks for assuming you know my daily activities. I don’t even pay for TV, actually. I think it’s a waste of time and money, and the time I have spent without TV has been great.

    Fact is, this is going to be viewed as a good thing in half of the people’s opinions, and a bad thing in the other half, with maybe a bit of gray to alllow for some people who honestly don’t give a crap. Either way, he didn’t need to come out publicly, and he didn’t do anything heroic. It shouldn’t require any amount of guts to tell the truth. Telling the truth is just the common, expected thing.

    It’s going to be a LLLLOOOOONNNNNGGGGG offseason.

  • Drew

    The most important thing we all take away from this discussion is that Mick Jagger is in Rolling Stones, not the Beatles.

    Back to you, basketball…

  • K.L.S.

    I’m morally opposed to homosexuality and I still don’t even care. Do we have a shot a winning with him as the Prez? Yes? Then lets move on and play ball!

  • Momochi Sandayu

    Hey Joe, I can definitely understand that we are all affected by the way we’re socialized within our contemporary societies, and cultures.

    I would say I’m curious about what you feel he was really saying, as I don’t see a “hidden” message. I feel it was all very straight forward, and there isn’t anything left to interpretation.

    Josh, I fail to see what is so cheap about stating what is a historical fact. I would hope in your 4 years studying him in graduate school they discussed his two major anti-Judaic treatises released three years before his death.

    His very last sermon, 3 days prior to his passing, was devoted to deriding followers of Judaism, calling for all types of violence on them unless they converted to Christianity.

    You’re free to be ordained in whatever you want, and I wish you luck with whatever you pursue. I made no comments about what contemporary Lutherans believe, only on what undeniably Martin Luther himself believed very strongly at the end of his life (unless he repented in the last 3 days of his life without it being documented).

    This story is obviously not a strictly basketball piece, and touches on many things a lot of people aren’t comfortable talking about. I would suggest skipping over these if these topics, and the comments attached to them bother you.

    Wish everyone the best either way.

  • Joe

    My basic point is this:

    No matter how bright the person, we are all molded by our society to certain degrees. Luther was raised in a Jew-hating society without religious tolerance. His stance on Jews for the vast majority of his life could pretty much be summarized by saying, “We should befriend Jews with the hope of bringing them to the realization that Jesus was the Messiah they were waiting for.” Clearly, he harbored bitterness in his heart at the fact that the Jews he encountered would not convert to Christianity, and his thinking was that Jews would stir up dissension in a society he desired to be 100% Christian. To my knowledge, Luther never actually followed through on any of his threats, and I think his “reasoning” for expelling the Jews was the protect the sanctity of the Church. Again, I’m not saying it’s right, but if every single person in the Catholic church at that time would have agreed with Luther (it was the dominant teaching of the time), I can’t blame Luther so much for being brainwashed into believing it.

    Our world today is not free from this type of thinking. There are more people killed for religion today than there ever have been in the history of the world. If you really think that women have a choice to terminate a pregnancy after they made a choice to have sex (side effects include pregnancy), there are many people today and there will be many in the future who would say you’ve been brainwashed into believing so. Every 10 years, the truth of the origin of the world changes drastically. I won’t touch the topic of evolution, but the big bang itself has been refuted mathematically (an exact science, not a guessing game) time after time after time. The random formation of the most basic protein necessary for life is statistically impossible, and not just “slightly” impossible. Statistical impossibility comes at 1:10^14. I’ve read numerous journals that give that reaction the most favorable circumstances possible, and I have yet to read a single conclusion that says it’s more than a 1:10^50. That’s quadrillions of quadrillions of quadrillions… times more unlikely than it needs to be in order to be a complete statistical impossibility.

    I’m not going to make any claims on what I think is right and what I think is wrong, but I can GUARANTEE you that our view of “right and wrong” is incorrect. No amount of thinking, progression, and transformation will ever change the fact that human beings are wicked and stupid. 500 years from now, people will look at our world as we know it and laugh and scoff at what we thought we knew.