As pioneering gay sports exec, Rick Welts foresees more open doors than closed for Jason Collins.
By RANDY HILLFS Arizona
In gaining perspective on what Jason Collins can expect in the days, weeks and months that follow Monday’s revelation, there are several qualified sources to consider.
But for unique insight, few compare to Rick Welts.
Welts, who was president and CEO of the Phoenix Suns when he came out two years ago as the first openly gay executive of a major U.S. professional sports team, has a rare understanding of Collins’ situation.
“This is such a personal thing, to reach a point in your life where you’re prepared to do this,” said Welts, now chief operating officer of the Golden State Warriors, on Monday in response to Collins' decision to reveal his sexuality. “I’m very proud of him. It’s a very, very courageous thing that he chose to do. I read the story. It came through as very authentic, came through as very, very genuine.”
Collins, who chose Sports Illustrated as the forum for become the first openly gay player in a major U.S. men’s team sport, wrote about the trials and tribulations associated with keeping his private life secret.
While Welts’ experience has team-sport associated similarities, he greatly appreciates the singular challenge confronted by Collins.
“He’s somebody who didn’t have the benefit of somebody going in the same situation before him to learn, to watch, to see how people would react,” Welts said. “So it takes a man of great courage to do what he did.”
Although Collins, a 34-year-old free agent who finished this past regular season with the Washington Wizards, will attempt to continue his NBA career, the off-court issues attached to coming out remain to be seen. Welts, who acknowledged the obvious differences in his situation, expects a mostly positive reaction to Collins’ decision.
“The way he’s put it, he hopes for the best and is prepared for the worst,” Welts said. “I don’t think there’s going to be much of the worst. From my own experience, from the thousands and thousands of people who reached out to me, I did not get one truly negative response.
“I know that doesn’t sound possible. It’s not what I was prepared for. I think the people who are really thoughtful on the subject, the people Jason cares about, are going to be with him.”
Welts also said the positive results of going public range from peace of mind to tangible opportunities to advance the conversation.
“I have the benefit of having walked this path,” Welts said. “It’s great to be able to share every part of your life with people you work with. Everybody in the Warriors organization, everybody in sports has been absolutely extraordinary in the way they’ve received me and my story, and I know Jason’s going to have the benefit of that as well.
“Everything about a story like this is a personal choice, and I think he’s made this choice and people will accept him for that. He absolutely will see more opportunities. A lot more doors are going to open for Jason than are going to close because of what he did today.”
Of course, there’s question that attaches itself to the Collins story and its potential impact on sports in this country – will his candor and courage inspire other athletes to do the same?
“It’s an interesting question … what happens now?” Welts said. “I’ve had that conversation with several people today. There was a lot of speculation that there could be some other players, some in other sports that might be ready to take this step, so I think we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Welts said he hopes to speak with Collins "when things settle down." Until then, he's glad to have another voice in what he considers an important discussion.
"This is what I signed up for, and this is what he's signing up for, too," he said. "And I'm sure he's going to welcome being part of the conversation.