There have been a lot of amazing gay sports news this year. Johnny Weir, Will Sheridan, Jared Max, Steve Buckley and others came out. Sean Avery, Steve Tisch, Michael Strahan and others openly supported same-sex marriage. Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah got fined a lot of money (for me anyway) for uttering a gay slur.
But what happened in San Francisco recently may have been the most important of all.
Rick Welts, the openly gay former president of the Phoenix Suns, was hired by the Golden State Warriors as team president and COO. While it won't get New York Times front-page treatment, it deserves it: this is bigger than Welts' coming out back in May.
For decades Welts feared what coming out might do to his career. Like so many closeted gay people in sports, he kept his private and public lives separate for fear that he wouldn't be able to get another job in sports if people knew he was gay. Welts' coming out at his current team was one thing. They couldn't fire, demote or shun him -- that would have been a public relations disaster. But when he left, no team was obligated to hire him.
Now an NBA team has handed this openly gay man the keys to their kingdom.
We have seen something like this before at a player level. In 2005, Dartmouth lacrosse goalie Andrew Goldstein became the first openly gay man drafted by an American pro-sports league when the Boston Cannons selected him. A year later, the Long Island Lizards picked him up in the Major League Lacrosse supplemental draft.
After rugger Gareth Thomas came out, he wasn't only picked up by a different team but he was picked up by a complete different league, going from Rugby union's Cardiff Blues to Rugby league's Crusaders.
While people focus on the travails of athletes, the real power brokers in sports are the guys Welts works with every day. And they've decided to welcome a gay man into their fold. While we don't know the whole backstory, you've got to believe this was something that happened over weeks or months. It involved recruiting. The Warriors didn't just sit quietly by their phones waiting for Welts to leave the Suns; they must have gone after him. They wanted him. That speaks volumes.
Some people will dismiss this as something that could only happen in San Francisco. Others are already rolling their eyes because there may be no NBA season.
I say it's big. Real big. A gay player, coach or executive now knows that they have a welcoming home with the Golden State Warriors. And all those people who, like Welts years ago, live in a fearful professional closet have a very bright, shining example of what can happen when you're simply good at your job.
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