Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Phoenix GM overwhelmed by support

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PHOENIX -- Rick Welts was 40,000 feet in the air on a flight two hours from New York when, as he put it, "my life was changing below me."

The Phoenix Suns president and chief executive officer knew the story revealing he was gay had been posted on the Internet by The New York Times. When he landed, his Blackberry "exploded with emails from all over the place," all supporting him.

There was a voice mail from Charles Barkley, a text from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and "really a nice message" from Arizona Cardinals President Michael Bidwill. In all, he said, he had "a couple hundred" emails, some from people he didn't know.

"It was incredibly gratifying and pretty emotional," he said. "People who had read the story when it went up online wanted to just reach out and give me a hug."

In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Welts explained why he chose such a public forum to announce his sexual orientation.

"One was to engender conversation about the topic, which is not discussed in our industry," he said. "The other was if there was a chance to do some good for people, young people, who are struggling with their own issues and wondering whether or not they could pursue their passions and have a chance to have a successful career, whether that was team sports or something else."

It's one thing for a 58-year-old sports executive to announce to the world he's gay. For an NBA player to do so would be quite another challenge, Welts said.

"The fact that it hasn't happened before I guess speaks to the difficult circumstances that someone will have to personally decide to take on to go forward with that," he said. "I think players have a much shorter career and have contracts at stake. They don't have anybody who's gone before them to know how that will actually play out. So more than anything it's the fear of the unknown, of not knowing."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2011 C5

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