NEW YORK (AP)—Phoenix Suns president and CEO Rick Welts revealed to the
public that he is gay in a story posted on The New York Times’ website Sunday,
saying he wants to break down one of the last significant social barriers in
Welts’ declaration is the latest development on a subject has gained
attention in the sports world recently, after Lakers star Kobe Bryant’s use of a
gay slur on the basketball court and NHL player Sean Avery’s public support of
Welts talked to NBA commissioner David Stern, WNBA president Val Ackerman,
Hall of Famer Bill Russell and Suns guard Steve Nash before discussing his
sexual orientation with a reporter from the Times, the newspaper said. All of
them offered Welts their support.
“This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits,” the
longtime executive told the paper. “Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a
The Suns did not offer a statement Sunday when contacted by The Associated
Press. Messages left with Welts’ public relations team were not returned.
Welts is one of the most prominent figures active in sports to openly
declare that he is gay, although there has yet to be an active player in the
NBA, Major League Baseball or the NFL to make such a statement. Some athletes
have done so after their playing careers.
The 58-year-old Welts, who began his career as a ball boy for the Seattle
SuperSonics, spent several years with Stern in the league office. He was the
architect of the All-Star Weekend and helped raise the NBA’s profile before
leaving for the Suns’ front office.
Welts told Stern about his sexual orientation during a meeting in New York
last month. The next day, Bryant responded to a technical foul by calling
referee Bennie Adams a “faggot” during the third quarter of a game against San
Antonio—touching off a firestorm of controversy and underscoring the taboo
nature of the subject in sports.
The Lakers star was fined $100,000; Bryant has since offered multiple
Also last month, Atlanta Braves coach Roger McDowell allegedly made
homophobic comments, crude gestures and threatened a fan with a bat before a
game in San Francisco. McDowell served a two-week suspension and also apologized
for his remarks.
Then there was Avery, the outspoken New York Rangers agitator, who offered
his support for same-sex marriage in a video as part of the New Yorkers for
Marriage Equality campaign.
Hockey agent Todd Reynolds tweeted that it was “Very sad to read Sean
Avery’s misguided support of same-gender ‘marriage.’ Legal or not, it will
always be wrong.” Damian Goddard, who hosted a show on Rogers Sportsnet in
Canada, tweeted his support for Reynolds and was fired.
Among the only people Welts opened up to were his parents and younger, only
sibling, Nancy—although Stern said he had a feeling his friend was gay. Stern
even telephoned Welts after his longtime partner, Arnie, died from complications
of AIDS in 1994.
Now, after all these years, Welts has decided it’s time to come out of the
“What I didn’t say at the time was: I think there’s a good chance the world
will find this unremarkable,” Stern told the Times, recalling their meeting in
which Welts revealed he was gay. “I don’t know if I was confusing my thoughts
with my hopes.”
Welts said he told Nash because they hold each other in high professional
regard. According to the newspaper, Nash was tipped off about what Welts wanted
to discuss and was surprised only because he thought everyone already knew that
Welts was gay.
“I think it’s a shame, for all the obvious reasons, that this is a leap
that he has to take,” Nash said. “Anyone who’s not ready for this needs to
catch up. … He’s doing anyone who’s not ready for this a favor.”