Rick Welts Comes Out, Changing The Face of Gay

Phoenix Suns president Rick Welts came out of the closet this weekend. The wide world of sports will never be the same.

Rick Welts Comes Out, Changing The Face of Gay

Men’s athletics are a bastion of hyper masculinity, realms traditionally peppered with homophobic attitudes and taunts, as seen last month when LA Lakers star Kobe Bryant called a referee “faggot.”

It’s no wonder that almost all gay sports figures come out of the closet after their career. Football players David Kopay and Roy Simmons did just that in 1975 and 1992, respectively. And retired basketball player John Amaechi revealed his homosexuality more recently: in 2007, four years after he left the court.

Said Amaechi at the time, “If you look at our league, minorities aren’t very well represented. There’s hardly any Hispanic players, no Asian-Americans, so that there’s no openly gay players is no real surprise. It would be like an alien dropping down from space. There’d be fear, then panic: They just wouldn’t know how to handle it.”

Welts would likely agree. “This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits,” he said in a ‘New York Times’ profile. “Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation.”

He continued, “It wasn’t talked about. It wasn’t a comfortable subject. And it wasn’t my imagination. I was there.”

Though not a professional player, Welts’ decision will help evolve athletic culture as a whole.

A 58-year old who started his four decade career as the Seattle SuperSonics’ ball boy, Welts rose steadily through the basketball ranks, eventually becoming the NBA’s executive vice president. True to the sports world, he took a brief retirement before returning to the courts in 2002, when he accepted his current position.

Now, after years of living in the shadows, Welts has decided to come clean. His decision’s but one ebb in the LGBT-inclusive sea change sweeping over the sports arena: Grant Hill and Jared Dudley recently recorded a public service announcement to combat pejorative use of the word “gay,” and New York Rangers player Sean Avery came out in support of marriage equality.

Still, there’s work to be done: after Avery announced his PSA, a sports agent named Todd Reynolds tweeted, “Very sad to read Sean Avery’s misguided support of same-gender “marriage.” Legal or not, it will always be wrong.”

When Reynolds came under fire, Canadian anchor Damian Goddard backed him up with his own tweet, “Very sad to read Sean Avery’s misguided support of same-gender “marriage”. Legal or not, it will always be wrong.” Goddard has since been fired.

While Welts’ coming out is noteworthy in and of itself, his candid explanation of why he kept quiet for so long also deserves notice: It was, in the beginning at least, because of his own misperceptions about what made a gay man — or, rather, a man gay: “In my mind, it was effeminate: a way that I would not define as masculine.”

Welts felt caged not simply by the NBA’s macho bravado and insular culture, but by culture as a whole, a culture that stereotypes all gay men as limp-wristed and light in the loafers.

Breaking down the closet door, Welts and other athletic professionals can help combat that image, helping people realize that gay men, and all LGBT people, in fact, come in every shape, size and profession, even sports.

Maybe one day we’ll live in a world where such announcements won’t matter. Until then, however, we’re all, gay or straight, lucky to have brave men like Welts out and, finally, proud.