After a career defined by putting work over his personal life, Rick Welts made a move toward the personal side by resigning from his post as Phoenix Suns president and CEO on Friday after nine years as a top Suns executive.
Welts, who sent shockwaves through the sport by becoming the first major sports executive to publicly announce his homosexuality in May, told The Arizona Republic he is leaving the Suns to head to Sacramento to live with his partner. He plans to spend his time speaking publicly and perhaps writing a book.
“The most important thing for me is to get my personal and professional lives better aligned,” Welts told the paper. “They’ve probably never been aligned. I’m 58 years old and it’s time to do that.
“This isn’t one of those departures to see greener pastures. It really is completely a personal situation. These guys have been tremendously accommodating and any other inference than that is absolutely crazy.”
Jason Rowley, the Suns’ general counsel, will take over Welts’ responsibilities when he leaves Sept. 15 and the team will start a national search for a permanent replacement, according to a Suns.com release.
“The entire Suns organization thanks Rick for his tireless work on behalf of the Suns,” said Suns owner Robert Sarver. “While he will be missed, we understand his desire to relocate outside of Arizona for personal reasons. We have a very talented executive team including Jason Rowley, whose familiarity with the Suns organization will allow him to manage the business operations seamlessly as we conduct our search for a new team president. Our search will include both internal and external candidates.”
Welts has spent much of his professional life in the NBA since 1969, when he started as a Sonics ball boy. He moved his way up in Seattle on the media relations side among other positions and later spent 17 years working in the NBA office, culminating in his position as the No. 3 man in the league along with the titles of executive vice president, chief marketing officer and president of NBA Properties.
Welts is famously known for creating NBA All-Star Weekend and the Slam Dunk Contest, and he was instrumental in starting the WNBA.
But as the New York Times story in which Welts came out detailed, Welts’ secret personal life suffered all the while because he was essentially leading a double life.
When Welts’ long-time partner, Arnie, died in 1994 from complications related to AIDS, Welts had nobody to openly grieve with.
According to The Times article, a 14-year relationship “ended badly” two years ago in large part due to “the shadow life that Mr. Welts required” as well.
Welts’ story kind of reminds me of the movie Click. Adam Sandler’s character can fast forward through life with a special remote that he always programs to prioritize work over personal. Like Welts, Sandler’s character reached the top of his field but in the end realizes family comes first after regretting not being able to watch his children grow up and his parents grow old.
The only difference is that at the age of 58, Welts is hitting the pause button and changing his priorities with this decision. He doesn’t want to look back and regret anything further in his personal life after his career has led to so much stress on his relationships over the years.
“I’m at a point in my life where my focus is to align my personal and professional life in a way I’ve never been able to achieve before,” Welts said in the Suns.com release. “The most important people in my personal life are not in Phoenix, and the Suns have been completely understanding and supportive of my request to leave in advance of the end of my contract.
“My nine-plus years at the Suns have been incredibly rewarding thanks to a group of employees second to none in professional sports and the support of great ownership. The Suns organization has always been a special place to work, and I leave knowing that will continue to be true in the future.”
Welts has accomplished about all a sports executive can, and the last several months have clearly been very reflective for him.
In May, he came out in the New York Times article to pull the curtains away from his secret life. That relieved the burden he has been carrying for so many decades as a homosexual in the world of sports, where the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy largely dominates the landscape despite major strides being made by teams like the Suns.
Welts called the overwhelmingly positive response to this “the most gratifying experience of my life, one for which I will forever be grateful.”
Welts’ decision to come out was monumental from the standpoint that it had never been done by a major sports executive, but it wasn’t enough for him personally. Now he needed to not only escape his secret life, but also go out and live the life he wants to live.
After all that Welts has achieved as an executive in the NBA, I am glad he seems to finally be finding that happiness he has long sought by prioritizing the personal over the professional at long last.