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Rick Welts: Coming Out Brought Job Offers

Rick Welts: Coming Out Brought Job Offers


Speaking before the United States Tennis Association Icon Awards, where he was honored Tuesday, Phoenix Suns president Rick Welts said one of the more surprising results of his coming out was an increase in job offers from people impressed by his revelation.

Welts spoke with The Advocate at the U.S. Open in New York City prior to the ceremony for the awards, which recognize contributions to diversity and inclusion. The basketball team president and CEO was honored for his leadership as exemplified in the willingness to be open about his sexual orientation, as he became the first senior executive of a men's professional sports team to acknowledge that he is gay, in a front-page interview with The New York Times in May.

"I probably have had more job offers in the last five months than I ever have in my life from the most unexpected places, people who actually found me a more interesting candidate because of what I had chosen to do," said the NBA executive, who joined the Suns in 2002. "It's been overwhelmingly positive from my team, our players, our ownership, our employees."

Welts said he has responded to "literally thousands of emails and hundreds of letters" from old colleagues, concerned parents, and children seeking interaction since his groundbreaking announcement. Calling his new platform a "huge sense of responsibility," he said he was interested in working to better conditions for youth, perhaps with the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, which has an inclusive sports project and will honor him in Los Angeles next month.

"It's been humbling, it's been a little bit overwhelming, but in a very good way," he said. "I think for me the challenge is kind of where from here, what do I do with this. I can't tell you I have the answer to that."

Asked about the year in professional sports so far, Welts said 2011 would be remembered as a watershed period for the advancement of LGBT causes. High-profile developments included a Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation public service announcement from the Los Angeles Lakers after shooting guard Kobe Bryant used an antigay slur, and the backlash against a hockey agent who criticized New York Rangers forward Sean Avery for his advocacy of marriage equality. Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash also participated in the same initiative, from the Human Rights Campaign.

"We have, especially in men's team sports, great difficulty even having the discussion," said Welts. "All these events that have transpired, good or bad, I think have heightened both the volume and the level of discussion to a place it's never really been before, and I think inevitably that's going, as we look back, to be viewed as a really important time."

One breakthrough yet to occur is the emergence of an openly gay player in the major men's professional team sports, something Welts said he was confident would happen, although he was reluctant to propose a time line.

"It will be incredibly courageous when it does happen, because it's different from me," he said. "It's very different. We will."

The third annual Icon Awards also honored the Sportsmen's Tennis and Enrichment Center of Boston. Former New York City mayor David Dinkins, a USTA board member who has been instrumental in the growth of the U.S. Open and its facilities including Arthur Ashe Stadium, received the inaugural Billie Jean King Legacy Award, presented to him by the lesbian tennis legend.

Dinkins, who advocated for the marriage equality law in New York this year with a video, served as city clerk from 1975 to 1985. He officiated his first wedding for a same-sex couple in July when he married Stephen Williams and Joey Pressley, a program director at Harlem United Community AIDS Center. Next for the former mayor will be the wedding later this month of Gay Men's Health Crisis executive director Marjorie Hill, who served as director of the Mayor's Office for the Lesbian and Gay Community in his administration, and her partner, Stacey Bridgeman.

"It was like, well, it's about time," said Dinkins of the marriage equality law before the awards ceremony. "In my time, I've done quite a few, some celebrity-type people and some ordinary folk, but I love weddings."

The former mayor also enjoys tennis and said he looked forward to matches once the rain delay lifted at the U.S. Open.

"Oh, hell yeah!" he said. "Serena."

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