Rick Welts Comes Out

By Josh Feit May 16, 2011

The New York Times has a big story today on Rick Welts—a former public relations director for the Seattle Supersonics during their late '70s heyday. Welts, currently the president of the Phoenix Suns, announced that he's gay.

Rick Welts (front row, far right) as a trainer for the Sonics in 1971

This may not seem like a big deal these days—black president—but Welts' longtime stay in the closet (he's 58 and has been in the NBA since he was a teenage ball boy for the Sonics), suggests that it is a big deal in men's professional sports.
In these meetings and in interviews with The New York Times, 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.”

There are lots of poignant moments in the article, including an account of Welts' trip to Seattle earlier this spring to come out to his mentor, NBA hall-of-famer and former Sonics coach Bill Russell, and ask for his public support. Russell was one of the three people associated with the league that Welts formally came out to, seeking public support---the other two being NBA commissioner David Stern and Phoenix all-star Steve Nash.

One thing I'm surprised the story didn't touch on was another recent dramatic announcement from the Phoenix Suns. Exactly a year ago, the Suns (Los Suns) formally came out against Arizona's controversial immigration law.

I don't know if the Suns' decision to take a political stance last year is related to Welts, but I wish the New York Times had asked if he'd played a role in that.
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