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article imageRick Welts, president of Phoenix Suns, announces he's gay

By KJ Mullins     May 16, 2011 in Sports
Phoenix - Rick Welts, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Phoenix Suns, is in a career where 'don't ask, don't tell' is the norm. He's taking a chance to change that with opening the closet door and saying that he is gay in a New York Times article.
Pro sports is one of the last careers where the subject of homosexuality is off-limits, according to Rick Welts. He should know after being in the sports biz for decades.
Welts made the decision to 'out' himself comes just a month after Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for calling a referee a "faggot."
Just the night before Welts, 58, had talked to NBA commissioner David Stern about his decision to reveal his sexuality. For four decades he had kept his secret only to find that Stern was willing to help him. Stern supported the sports exec giving him a first hug in their 30-year friendship. Even though Stern knew about Welts' sexuality it was never discussed openly. For Welts it meant taking a chance that others would not be as supportive.
Welts always knew that he was gay according to his interview with the New York Times. He also knew that being in sports was not the norm for a gay man. He rose from being a ball boy to N.B.A. executive to team president all while firmly in the closet.
“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.”
Even though Welts didn't talk about his love life at work he has been in a committed relationship from 1977 until 1994 when his partner Arnie died from complications related to AIDS. That death was hard but so firmly in the closet was Welts that he only took a couple of days to grieve from his job.
Stern called the day after Arnie's death to comfort his friend but homosexuality was not part of the conversation.
“This was a loss that Rick had to suffer entirely on his own,” Mr. Stern said, reiterating that he was following Mr. Welts’s lead. “It’s just an indication of how screwed up all this is.”
Welts paid a high price for his silence losing a 14-year relationship because of his shadow life.
“My high profile in this community, and my need to have him be invisible,” Mr. Welts said, with clear regret. “That ultimately became something we couldn’t overcome.”
Of course not all sports figures are biased. Isiah Thomas said just a few years ago that he "would make damn sure" there would be no problems if one of his team members were gay reports ESPN.
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