Warriors hire Welts

  • by Roger Brigham
  • Wednesday September 28, 2011
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Rick Welts made history in May when he became the first major sports executive in America to come out of the closet while president and chief executive officer with the Phoenix Suns. This week he made history by becoming the first openly gay major sports executive to be hired by a major men's professional sports franchise, when he was named the new president and chief operating officer of the Golden State Warriors.

"I've been in basketball about 40 years," Welts said at the Warriors' Tuesday morning press conference at its Oakland practice facility announcing his hiring, "but I don't think any morning I've ever woken up more excited than today. It's an opportunity probably for the first time for me to align my personal and professional lives."

Welts, 58, resigned from the Suns in early September in order to move to northern California to be closer to his partner, Todd Gage of Sacramento. He told the Bay Area Reporter that the single biggest fear he had previously about speaking out publicly about his sexuality was that he would never be able to land another job in the sport he loves. But instead of becoming a pariah, he received a call from managing partners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, who have been retooling the Warriors over the past year since buying into the team.

"We started an evaluation of the franchise in November and came up with a list of two or three people for the position," Lacob said. "He was on the list but he wasn't available; he was employed. Two weeks ago we heard he was leaving the Suns."

Lacob said a phone call quickly came from Suns owner Robert Saver, praising Welts's credentials and character, which set the Warriors' talks with Welts in motion.

Welts began his association with pro basketball as a ball boy for the Seattle SuperSonics. In 1982 he was hired by incoming NBA Commissioner David Stern to build the NBA brand and engage corporate sponsors. Before joining the Suns in 2002, he was credited with creating the NBA All-Star Weekend in 1984; basketball marketing of the 1992 Olympic "Dream Team;" and the launch in 1997 of the Women's National Basketball Association.

Welts said the reaction to his coming out has been nothing but positive.

"Nothing negative has happened. I could probably have handled my personal life in different ways. I could have taken care of my personal life in a lot of different ways. But I came out publicly because there was something more to be done."

He had been contemplating several book offers and speaking engagements.

"I was kind of looking forward to a little bit of time off, but this opportunity was not going to come along again."

Now Welts said he is house hunting in the Bay Area. "No more commuting will be involved," he told reporters. "If there was one event I could remove from the human experience, it would be moving."

And Welts said he plans to remain vocal and continue speaking out. He and Gage have posed for publicity photographs for the "No on H8" campaign, and Welts will be recognized by Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network on Friday, October 21 in Los Angeles for his advocacy against classroom bullying.

Welts said he thought the biggest barrier to out gays in men's pro sports is a culture of silence.

"We don't have a mechanism to talk about it," Welts said. "I hope that by my being out, I can help elevate the quantity and quality of discussion."

Asked if he would seek to make the Warriors, who became the first NBA franchise to hold an LGBT Night in 2010, more aggressive in their LGBT marketing like the San Francisco Giants, Welts said, "That's question assumes I know what the marketing is now."