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What is the significance of the revelation this week in the New York Times that Phoenix Suns president and CEO Rick Welts is gay? Well, you can get out your dauber and mark off the major-professional-team-executive square on your bingo card of "Who Has Come Out in Sports?" Now all any of us need is an active player in a major U.S. professional men's team sport for our cards to be completely filled in.
The real importance of Welts's coming out is not so much the small direct impression it will make on the sporting public (really, unless the subject is George Steinbrenner or Mark Cuban, does anyone ever really talk about sports executives?) but the quiet dialogue it will create in the executive offices.
Welts's choice of the Times as his vehicle for coming out is a curious one. Copy desk NYT-pickers resisted for years using the word "gay" in print (in 1982 the paper printed scores from the "Homosexual Games") and, except in its sports section, continues to refer to people as Mr. and Ms.
Hip it is not.
Welts, 58, preceded his public coming out with a series of one-on-one visits, including a sit-down with NBA Commissioner David Stern, who had hired Welts years ago as a marketing guru. The day after that meeting, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant used the phrase "fucking faggot" on national television and was handed a $100,000 fine and told to undergo sensitivity training. And the NBA immediately went on the video offensive, teaming up with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network to produce a "Think Before You Speak" public service announcement featuring Suns players Grant Hill and Jared Dudley telling kids that putting people down by calling them gay is unacceptable.
The video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8D_XLCmY0D8.
In a preface to his novel Maurice , one of the truly great gay-themed novels of the previous century, author E.M. Forster wrote, "What the public really loathes about homosexuality is not the thing itself but having to think about it."
Thinking about or talking about it is something the NBA and other major pro leagues have not done much of in the past. Welts told Times reporter Dan Barry, "This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits. Nobody's comfortable in engaging in a conversation."
That should change now that Welts has broken the silence in the boardroom. No longer will the execs be able to indulge in the fantasy that "they" are not on the team and not in the room, that "they" will be silent until retirement. Slowly but surely the don't ask, don't tell conspiracy of silence is ending; coming out is the prelude for real cultural change and acceptance in the locker room and on the playing field.
And perhaps, at long last, active players in the pros coming out. Allowing us to yell out, proudly:
Making it get better
After San Francisco Giants fan Sean Chapin started an online petition urging the G-men to become the first professional sports team to make an It Gets Better video, the Giants confirmed this week that they will do so.
A Giants spokeswoman told the Bay Area Reporte r the team had already planned to do a video before LGBT Night Out at the Ballpark on August 29 against the Chicago Cubs, but would now accelerate their schedule to do it before then.
"We decided to do it because it is an important message for everyone to hear – particularly for LGBT youth – and we hope that our participation can help spread the It Gets Better message to a wider audience," said Staci Slaughter, Giants senior vice president for communications.
In his petition, Chapin laid out the reasons why such a message would be important.
"Professional sports is one of the few remaining pockets of strong homophobia in our country," Chapin wrote. "Kobe Bryant's homophobic slur against a referee, captured on national television, is the tip of a very large iceberg. That's why the time is ripe for a sports team to make a game-changing stand for acceptance and equality and why I am calling on the San Francisco Giants and their players to produce a video for the It Gets Better Project."
The petition was signed by San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener and numerous mayoral candidates. As of Tuesday it had more than 6,500 signatures.
The petition can be found by visiting http://www.change.org/petitions and searching for "San Francisco Giants."
National gay lacrosse team forming
Denver-based GForce Sports, which has sponsored a gay hockey team for several years, has announced plans to create a gay lacrosse team, which is expected to play this fall in tournaments against mainstream teams.
Team leader Andrew McIntosh, a former team captain for State University of New York College at Oneonta, said he has already recruited half of the roster for the team.
"Lacrosse has such wide appeal across the United States and Canada that we're getting fantastic interest from potential players," McIntosh said. "People are going to be surprised at the depth of the team and the quality of competition once everyone is together."
Players interested in joining can contact McIntosh by emailing him at email@example.com.