With Kobe Bryant's recent use of a gay slur to demean an NBA referee, there's been more focus on sports' tolerance of homosexuality in recent weeks. So the timing of the news that Phoenix Suns president Rick Welts is gay, revealed in the Sunday New York Times, makes for a critical mass of sports news related to gay rights.
It might not change anything, at least not immediately. But that's a good thing.
Welts explains in the piece that the reason for revealing his sexuality has a lot to do with no longer wanting to live a shadow life. He cites the ending of a long-term relationship with a partner he had to hide as a particularly painful incident, but he also notes that he wants to shatter the sports world's unwritten codes about talking about homosexuality.
"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."
If that conversation is finally beginning, with truth made public and support from people who matter — Welts counts both NBA commissioner David Stern and Hall of Famer Bill Russell as friends, and both men are mentioned in the Times article — then we may have some progress on our hands. But Welts might also prove something if nothing changes in Phoenix: he's clearly risen to his prominent position with the Suns because of factors that have nothing to do with his sexuality, and demonstrates that gays can have success in sports, and if there's no or little blowback, he's showing that being publicly gay need not be a hindrance in sports.
That alone is valuable. It's just a start, but it's valuable. If the embrace of the NBA community in the coming days follows, though, it's going to get easier to have conversations about homosexuality in sports.
And if we continue having those conversations, even or especially the hard ones with the hard-headed, it's going to get easier for people who feel relegated to shadowed lives to step into the light.