Monday, 16 May 2011

Out in Sport: Basketball Exec Rick Welts Steps Out of the Closet

Gay men and women exist in every field of human activity, but in some fields are less visible than in others, In male team sports in particular, the culture is hostile to openly gay sexuality, so the pressures are strong to remain closeted. The closet, though, has costs of its own, as Rick Welts, executive director of the Phoenix Suns basketball team learnt twice. First, on the death of his long-term partner, he was forced to carry his grief alone and in silence. Later, he lost a second partner who tired of sharing the closet with him. 

Now, he has come out publicly as described in a story from the New York Times. This is an extract:

Although he had opened up to his supportive parents and to his younger, only sibling, Nancy, Mr. Welts feared that if he made his homosexuality public, it would impede his rising sports career.

“It wasn’t talked about,” he said. “It wasn’t a comfortable subject. And it wasn’t my imagination. I was there.”

But this privacy came at great cost. In March 1994, his longtime partner, Arnie, died from complications related to AIDS, and Mr. Welts compartmentalized his grief, taking only a day or two off from work. His secretary explained to others that a good friend of his had died. Although she and Arnie had talked many times over the years, she and her boss had never discussed who, exactly, Arnie was.
Around 7:30 on the morning after Arnie’s death, Mr. Welts’s home telephone rang. “It was Stern,” he recalled. “And I totally lost it on the phone. You know. Uncle Dave. Comforting.”
Even then, homosexuality was never discussed — directly.
For weeks, Mr. Welts walked around the office, numb, unable to mourn his partner fully, or to share the anxiety of the weeklong wait for the results of an H.I.V. test, which came back negative.
Sometime later, he began opening the envelopes of checks written in Arnie’s memory to the University of Washington, and here was one for $10,000, from David and Dianne Stern, of Scarsdale, N.Y. In thanking Mr. Stern, Mr. Welts said they “did the guy thing,” communicating only through asides and silent stipulations.
“This was a loss that Rick had to suffer entirely on his own,” Mr. Stern said, reiterating that he was following Mr. Welts’s lead. “It’s just an indication of how screwed up all this is.”
When Mr. Welts left the N.B.A. in 1999, he was the league’s admired No. 3 man: executive vice president, chief marketing officer and president of N.B.A. Properties. By 2002, he was the president of the Suns who still kept his sexuality private — a decision that at times seemed wise, as when, in 2007, the former N.B.A. player John Amaechi announced that he was gay, prompting the former N.B.A. star Tim Hardaway to say that, as a rule, he hated gay people.
But again Mr. Welts paid a price. Two years ago, a 14-year relationship ended badly, in part because his partner finally rejected the shadow life that Mr. Welts required. “My high profile in this community, and my need to have him be invisible,” Mr. Welts said, with clear regret. “That ultimately became something we couldn’t overcome.”

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