NBA Executive Rick Welts: Athlete AllyTuesday, January 10th, 2012
Rick Welts, former President & CEO of the NBA's Phoenix Suns, took over as COO and President of San Francisco's Golden State Warriors a few months ago - making him the first and only openly gay senior sports executive.
Welts, who made headlines earlier this year when he announced he was gay, made news again just a few months later when he left his position with the Phoenix Suns to spend more time with his family and focus on his relationship with his partner. He joins our growing roster of figures from the professional sports world to participate in the NOH8 Campaign. “There’s a simplicity to the images,” Welts said. “That’s the magic. It’s so simple and so hard to imagine not being able to embrace the motivation behind it.”
Rick Welts' willingness to step forward and risk his career in order to live openly and happily serves as an admirable example to his colleagues of the simple but strong actions necessary to combat the stigma of homosexuality in sports. Rick served as the third-highest-ranking official in the NBA from 1996-1999, acting as the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. Having someone at his level come out as gay speaks volumes to peers and fans alike, sending the powerful message that yes - one of the men in charge of professional basketball happened to be gay, and no, it had absolutely no effect on his ability to do his job.
“We’re still uncomfortable talking about [gay men in team sports]. I think this has created more constructive dialogue, and I don’t think that’s going to go away,” Welts said in an interview with Outsports. “I made the decision by late last year that I was going to [come out]. If my story could really resonate with one young person out there who was questioning whether or not they could pursue their passion, sports or not, because of who they are, then it was worth whatever would come from it.”
We hope more professional sports figures - whether they be gay, straight, or anywhere in-between - continue to step forward like Rick Welts and declare their support for the elimination of homophobia.
Rick Welts & His Partner
One of the keys to eliminating homophobia from sports, Welts said in the same interview, is straight athletes publicly supporting the movement. Our friend Hudson Taylor, an incredible straight ally who has often gone out of his way to help spread the message of equality, created his entire organization around this very concept.
Athlete Ally, which was recently granted their own official non-profit status, is a sports resource encouraging all individuals involved in sports to respect every member of their communities, regardless of perceived or actual sexual-orientation or gender identity or expression, and to lead others in doing the same. Athlete Ally provides social advocacy campaigns, on-campus trainings, and practical tools, including resources to locate and learn about allied athletes, coaches, teams, athletic clubs and sports-based advocacy projects around the country.
As an athlete and coach, I am confident that the athletic community can help prevent similar tragedies. I believe in our potential as athlete allies to define 21st century sportsmanship by actions and words that reject homophobia and value respect and diversity.
Historically, athletics have brought people together and inspired leadership. When the Brooklyn Dodgers drafted Jackie Robinson in 1947, making him the first African-American in Major League Baseball, sports led the nation in the fight for racial integration.
Today more than ever, members of the sports community have the power to affirm, connect and inspire people around the country. By taking small steps based on simple ideas at the heart of sportsmanship — like treating others as you want to be treated — athletes, coaches, parents, fans and administrators can unite a team where each player has unique talents, traits and preferences.
I am convinced that what we say and do will spread further than we can imagine — beyond locker rooms and playing fields — and change the national environment for all people.
I encourage you to learn what you can do to become an athlete ally and to contact me so that we can do more together than any single athlete can do alone.