May 16, 2011, 8:10 AM EDT
In an ideal world, the NBA (and basketball) is a meritocracy — how well you do as a player or coach or executive is based solely on how well you do your job. Skin color, religion, who you choose to sleep with, none of that should matter.
But we know better — organized professional sports remains one of the places left where there is a homophobic subtext. Sometimes not even a subtext, which is what got Kobe Bryant in trouble.
Rick Welts is trying to change that. Welts is the president and chief executive of the Phoenix Suns and he came out to the New York Times in an interview published Sunday. That came after he met with those around him to tell them what was happening, and that includes David Stern, Steve Nash and (Welts mentor) Bill Russell.
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.”
Welts as had a long and storied career around the NBA — back in the 80s he helped revive the idea of All-Star Weekend with a slam dunk contest and more. He has risen from a ball boy to a guy in charge of an NBA team.
He got there in merit.
We all look forward to the day when this isn’t a story. Right now, it still is. But maybe this starts to change it a little.