The New York Times piece (link to article) on NBA Executive and Phoenix Suns President Rick Welts, and his struggles with being gay in an industry which considers such sexuality taboo, was well, underwhelming. To most, the article and the topic it addresses will allow for what the media calls “a healthy conversation” on the industry of sports and the stigma of being gay within that industry. To be fair, the subject is rarely discussed, and having a prominent figure like Rick Welts be the focal point should make the conversation interesting. But isn’t it time we stop making this sort of story newsworthy? Not to make Rick and his struggles seem unimportant, they aren’t, but I think America has moved beyond the “coming out of the closet” story, or at least we should.
The discussion of gays in sports has always been centered around the premise that most athletes and coaches are not accepting of gays in their “world”. This premise has largely gone untested, and has largely been framed as truth despite very few public endorsements of homophobia by industry insiders. It brings to question whether there actually is a problem, or if it is just a another media generated topic to get people to watch and read the news. David Stern, the Commissioner of the NBA, hit the nail right on the head in the article when he commented to the Times that he should have told Mr. Welts he thought “the world” would find the story “unremarkable”. Although Mr. Sterns comment comes off as rather harsh (and to Mr. Welts and his family especially harsh), it shows that even after 33-plus years in the NBA (the last 27 as commissioner) Stern still has his thumb on the culture of America.
It has been Mr. Stern and his associates (Mr. Welts especially) strongest asset in their years running the NBA. His uncanny ability to understand the public, the perception they have about his league, and the shift in American culture that has taken place has ultimately led the NBA to its most successful and dramatic season in a decade. Stern is not perfect, by any means, and that may come to fruition shortly (his handling of ownership issues surrounding the Oklahoma City Thunder, New Orleans Hornets, and Sacramento Kings is shady at best and on the verge of unethical). The point is, Stern thinks the topic of gays in sports isn’t really the issue the sports media wants to make it.
In 2007, former NBA player John Amaechi came out as being gay, mostly to the surprise of most of the NBA and sporting community. As the Times stated in the article, there was backlash, especially from some former players. What they didn’t reveal, was that the number of supporters in that case was largely overwhelming, and it proved then that our society today is willing to accept gays in all forms and in any industry. For some reason, the homophobes are continuously the ones being heard in the conversation, which is why there is an issue in the first place. The fact is, the world will never be cured from hatred and ignorance. In the case of gays in sports, the majority is strongly on the side of accepting players, coaches, and fans.
The question now, needs to be how we move forward in the sports community knowing that gays are a part of it, and will continue to be? The discussion needs to be framed in the future and I hope that ESPN and the other sports media outlets will do so. If they fail to, the culture of sports in America will be hurt. We need people like David Stern, who hold that influence in their hands, to continue to be supportive of people from all walks of life. We need NBA analysts on ESPN and TNT to be proactive in letting the public know that the sporting community is no different than the rest of our society, and that gays should be welcome to participate in our sports craved society. Anything different than that would continue a history of ignorance.
-Andrew D. Henke