Friday, June 24th, 2011 at 12:00 pm  |  38 responses

First Step

Rick Welts’ announcement that he’s gay was a big deal, but the League has so far to go.

Originally published in SLAM 150

by Dave Zirin

I guess every May we should just start to expect the Phoenix Suns to make political/sports history. Last year on Cinco de Mayo, the Suns shocked the world when they stood up as one and opposed Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation, wearing jerseys that read simply, Los Suns.

On May 15 of this year, team president Rick Welts made history when he told the world he was gay. In doing so, Welts became the first executive of any major sports team to come out of the closet. “This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits,” said Welts. “Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation.”rick welts

Men’s sports—more so than even the armed forces—is one of the last great hamlets of homophobia in our society. No active male jock has ever come out of the closet. This is what makes Welts’ action newsworthy. It starts a discussion the League—and all pro sports—are desperate not to have. Even NBA Commissioner David Stern, who is a political liberal as well as a friend of Welts for 30 years, said of gay rights: “I don’t want to become a social crusader on this issue.” Courage, in other words, is in short supply.

Fortunately, Welts is linked to a franchise where political courage is a way of life. Upon speaking to Welts, team captain Steve Nash said, “Anyone who’s not ready for this needs to catch up. He’s doing anyone who’s not ready for this a favor.”

When John Amaechi, in 2007, became the first former NBA player to come out of the closet, current Sun Grant Hill said, “The fact that John has done this, maybe it will give others the comfort or confidence to come out as well, whether they are playing or retiring.” In fact, the very week Welts decided to come out, by sheer coincidence, Hill and teammate Jared Dudley were filming a Public Service Announcement against homophobia. In the PSA, a young ballplayer calls another player’s moves on the court “gay;” then Hill steps out and says, “Using gay to mean dumb or stupid—not cool.” Dudley then appears and says, “Not in my house—not anywhere.”

Later that night, on the very evening that PSA was filmed, Kobe Bryant used an anti-gay slur caught by microphones, and we were reminded that tolerance in pro sports is still window dressing. The reality of the locker room is that being gay is equated with weakness, and the conception of what makes a man is as adolescent as any high school.

We’ve approached a possible tipping point. NFL players Brendan Ayanbadejo and Scott Fujita have come out as straight supporters of LGBT equality. Ayanbadejo and New York Rangers hockey star Sean Avery have even filmed PSAs in support of marriage equality. Baseball’s San Francisco Giants just became the first sports franchise to film an “It Gets Better” YouTube video, which calls upon despairing LGBT teens to turn away from suicide as an option to solve their isolation or despair in the face of bullying.

The League could do so much more. Welts’ announcement alone probably won’t amount to much. Unless you are an NBA junkie who knows that Welts is the NBA executive responsible for the return of the Slam Dunk Contest in 1984, or are a die-hard Suns fan, you probably haven’t heard of the man. But Welts could perhaps ask his dear friend the commissioner to make discussion of homophobia part of every rookie orientation, as I suggested last month in this space. How about statements from the NBA that if any rookies in the room happen to be gay, the NBA will stand as a workplace where their sexuality won’t only be “tolerated” but accepted?

David Stern’s support for gay rights is also in the closet. It’s time to come out.

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  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFvy4YSt1tQ EJ

    I find it kinda weird and hypocritical how so many black people are homophobic. I mean both groups have faced much hate for what they are, so you’d think they’d stand up for each other.

  • http://sdjkflf.com Jukai

    Sports is one of the last great hamlets of homophobia…? Have you tried looking at, I dunno, society?

  • bike

    If no active jock has come out of the closet then one explaination for this is that there are very few, if any, gays in the NBA. If there are no open gays in the NBA, how can one make the statement that homophobia is a problem? Are gays upset at the NBA? If so, why?

  • Huh

    EJ – I find it kinda weird that you bring up black people being homophobic when this article is about sports in general. Where are you getting your information from, the black people you know or the black entertainers you see? Every black person isn’t homophobic and there are those who happen to be black (Hill, Dudley, the first openly gay NBA player, John Amaechi) that stand up for gay rights. Are all black people supposed to fight for gay rights? What about those of Jewish or Middle Eastern descent – or are all of them already fighting?

  • Wagers

    They totally need to trade and get Metta World Peace to start a Gay Pride NBA movement.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFvy4YSt1tQ EJ

    The reason I talked about blacks is that the NBA is 80% black. And blacks are homophobic more often than whites (70% of blacks voted for prop 8), which I find weird since both groups have faced oppression.

  • Yann Blavec

    Wasn’t he the guy a Robert Horry hard foul (and Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudamire jumping off the bench) away from the title ? Cool then.

  • seriousblack

    EJ, I’m so f#*king tired of black people being looked at as if we have an obligation to support all things gay. Unlike blacks in this country, gays aren’t being hanged or lynched. There are plenty of gay politicians an executives in influential positions. To compare the two situations is asinine and inappropriate. Blacks fought for basic human rights, given by God and denied by man. I’m not saying it’s right to discriminate against gays. I think it’s wrong and illegal that the government can legislate property rights, health care, and inheritance based on sexual orientation. I do not believe blacks owe gays some special allegiance, and I do not believe it’s everyone else’s responsibility to help the closeted gays come out. Frankly I don’t watch basketball hoping to hear about who the players are banging either. Huge difference between race and sexual orientation. Being commfortable with everyone knowing who you like to have sex with isn’t the same as being denied the right to earn a living because of the color of you’re skin, as black players were in the past. No one is out there denying players work because they’re gay. Denying them total comfort on the job? Maybe. Either way, I’m tired of hearing/reading about acceptance of other folks’ sex lives in areas that shouldn’t have ish to do with the subject. I watch the NBA because I love the sport, period. One last thing, I am curious as to how gay issues are currently so important in sports, but the constant and much more pervasive mysoginy and hetero domestic abuse is worthy of only half of this attention the gay issue gets right now. Where are the notorious cheaters (Steve Nash) and wife beaters in their PSA’s about treating women better? I guess that subject isn’t “new” and exciting enough to jump on the bandwagon. The NBA should stick to basketball.

  • vtrobot

    @ bike: i think they say about 10% of society is gay, unless there are only 9 dudes in the L, i think the odds are that there is actually a gay man in the L. it’s cool tho. everything will be fine. you might just need to wait until about 10 years after retirement to find out who they are. they’ll let us know once they feel that it won’t negatively impact their financial well being.

  • seriousblack

    And another thing EJ, the fact that the black community has an HIV epidemic stemming from a lot of risky homosexual activity doesnt help the gay rights agenda amongst blacks. In addition to that , the arrogance of a lot of gay whites in assuming they are owed the support of the black community adds to the disinclination of many to support their movement.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    @ seriousblack: That’s some terrible logic right there. People weren’t denied jobs in the past for being gay? Gay people aren’t discriminated against? What history are you talking about?
    First of all, gay people exist in the black community in case you weren’t aware. But ignoring that fact for a second, maybe gay people shouldn’t give a sh!t about black people because black people are allowed in the military. That’s a reason to believe racism doesn’t exist, right? Yeah! Gays shouldn’t support race equality!
    No one is playing the oppression Olympics here (ie. who’s had it worse, gays or blacks?). That’s irrelevant. You make a great point about misogyny in today’s culture, but to cite that as a reason not to push for gay rights is insanity.
    Native Americans were oppressed in America, and in many instances have it worse than a lot of black people. Why aren’t we talking about Natives? Let’s completely ignore black people because Native issues aren’t getting the proper attention they deserve in America!
    “Either way, I’m tired of hearing/reading about acceptance of other folks’ sex lives in areas that shouldn’t have ish to do with the subject.”
    Way to go, you’ve turned to victim blaming. It’s not the general population that makes a big deal out of sexual orientation, it’s the gays! THEY’RE the ones making such a big fuss over equal rights… It’s not like society is still heavily homophobic–it’s the GAYS! They have a chip on their shoulder and want to push that homosexual nonsense in everyone’s faces, right? Please…
    “Blacks fought for basic human rights, given by God and denied by man.” From this statement, it appears that you’re religious. Chances are, you’re either Christian or Muslim. Maybe there’s a hidden agenda here that you just aren’t acknowledging, a reason as to why you’re so bitter about gay acceptance being talked about in sports, and in general.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFvy4YSt1tQ EJ

    It’s not about supporting gays, it’s just supporting equality. And since blacks didn’t have the right to get married only a few decades ago, you’d think that would give them compassion for gays, who are now fighting the same problem.
    And I would say that gay people have had it worse than black people thru out history. I mean even today in some countries you get killed if you’re gay, it’s like the law. Oh, and also the two biggest religions in the world hate homosexuals.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    Oh, and now the HIV/AIDS epidemic is the fault of homosexuality. It’s not like women are afflicted with HIV, it’s not like the virus can spread through heterosexual intercourse, it’s not like the drug epidemic rampant in a lot of inner-city communities has had ANYTHING to do with it. Nope, it’s the gays’ fault!
    That’s totally a reason for 70% of black people to vote in favor of Prop 8, which denies gay couples the right to marry (and the rights concomitant with marriage). Even you say it’s illegal and wrong for people to be denied rights based on sexual orientation–but hey, not in the black community! EJ is sooooo annoying because he brought up a great point about homophobia in the African-American community, which so many African-Americans such as yourself refuse to acknowledge, and, like you did just now, even justify it. Obviously not all African-Americans are homophobic or opposed to gay marriage, so please, stop making statements like : “In addition to that, the arrogance of a lot of gay whites in assuming they are owed the support of the black community adds to the disinclination of many to support their movement.”
    They aren’t just “owed” anyone’s support, they DESERVE it because they DESERVE to be respected with the same rights as you or me, and to feel comfortable in the workplace. They aren’t asking anything of black people that they aren’t asking from white people, or Latinos, or Asians, because in case you haven’t noticed, gay people aren’t just one color.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    “And I would say that gay people have had it worse than black people thru out history.” Uhhh, okay, that’s a pretty misinformed statement to make, EJ.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    And it doesn’t do anything to compare the two, either. Like I said, it’s irrelevant.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFvy4YSt1tQ EJ

    How is that misinformed? Maybe in the sense that gay people could lie about their sexuality, but if they got caught for being gay, they got killed. But anyway it’s irrelevant who’s been treated the worst, I just said that cause seriousblack went there.

  • http://dsjfklflc.om Jukai

    Wow at the AIDs thing. While I don’t think the black community owes anything more to the gays than the white community does, that “THE GAYS ARE KILLING BLACKS” statement is straight psychopath. I’m staying away from this one.

  • http://www.pablasso.com pablasso

    Comparing who “had it worst” it’s just stupid.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    @ EJ: Nobody is saying gay people aren’t being killed… But that statement is misinformed because it completely disparages what black ppl have gone through. That’s why these comparisons make no sense.

  • irondan21

    Thank you seriousblack! Enslave the gays for a few hundred years then we can talk. Until then the comparison is insulting.

  • seriousblack

    EJ, you need to sit down and go read a book about what black people have gone through because you have no f#*king clue about what you speak. For that reason alone, I’m no longer addressing you because you’ve proven you know too little about the black experience in this country for your opinion on the subject to be valid. To Teddy and Jukai: Neither of you know enough about the dynamics of the AIDS crisis in the black community to dismiss my point. Nobody said heterosexuals can’t and don’t spread the virus. Homosexual activity plays a special role in the spread of the disease in the black community and I don’t care whether or not you two understand that. Your ignorance on the subject is your own fault. Secondly, I’m not justifying discrimination against gays, I’m making a distinction between the issue of sexual orientation and race. It’s necessary because comparing the two situations minimizes what black people went through. Also, don’t make assumptions about my “religious” or spiritual background because yet again you don’t know what you are talking about. Thirdly, the only thing black people or any other group owes anyone is respectful treatment. Nothing more or less. I don’t have to start tailoring my religious or personal beliefs to fit anyone’s sex life. My last point is the same one I made before: The NBA is a basketball league. That’s really all I care to watch it for. I’m not interested in listening to a bunch of hypocrites picking and choosing which social issues they’ll address based on what’s “popular” at the time. I’m not interested in who the players and execs are sleeping with either.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFvy4YSt1tQ EJ

    I know black history, and I haven’t said any of this stuff to take anything away from it, but to say that black people have been treated worse through out history is not correct. Yes slavery was a terrible thing and many blacks got killed during that time. But the thing is that if you got caught of being gay, that was pretty much instant death anywhere in the world, and still is today in some countries.
    And I’d like to say that I didn’t start this argument on “who’s gone thru more” cause I feel like it doesn’t matter. I just responded to seriousblack and irondan21.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    seriousblack says: “I’m making a distinction between the issue of sexual orientation and race. It’s necessary because comparing the two situations minimizes what black people went through.”
    Who was making that comparison? It was you who brought it up in the first place. Seriously, why get up in arms when someone says “blacks and gays have both been oppressed.” They have, and in many instances, still are. So… what? That means we’re comparing them now? What kind of logic is that?
    Would you be upset at gay people supporting a bill that prevented African-Americans from marrying each other? Yes? Okay then.
    Also, you have no right to speak for the entire black race of America, because A) there are gay black people, B) there are a lot of black people who support gay rights and C) you aren’t the entire black race of America, and since when have you been elected spokesperson? … And yeah, keep blaming homosexuals on HIV/AIDS. That’s almost as ridiculous as if, hypothetically, the rest of the world were to blame Africans/black people for AIDS, or blame Asians for SARS. That makes no sense whatsoever.
    And LOL at “popular” social issues. Popular, that’s what it is. Not important at all, just popular. Great.
    Also, irondan, if I remember correctly, is a huge homophobe who constantly posts anti-gay remarks on this message board, so a co-sign from him really isn’t the best endorsement, and he really can’t speak on what’s “insulting” or not.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    “Blacks fought for basic human rights, given by God and denied by man.”
    True, but what exactly do you think gay people want?

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    And what I meant when I said “you have no right to speak for the entire black race of America”, I meant in choosing a side to a particular issue, just as one Asian wouldn’t be able to speak on behalf of all Asians, or a Jew on behalf of all Jews, or an Arab… you get the picture. But I’d think that as a human being, you’d support anything that helps better the lives of other human beings.

  • http://jsdklfl.com Jukai

    I know enough to see that the hetrosexual black community is spreading around AIDS statistically worse that the homosexual black community in most of Africa. Not sure if I can find those stats in the USA, but maybe it’s not a homosexual or hetrosexual thing at all? Maybe the spread of AIDS is a person thing which has to do with the way people are brought up and their ideas revolving around unprotected sex?
    Nahhhh let’s blame the gays.
    Just ignorant.

  • Dr. Phil

    Damn you homosexuals! We already gave you New York! What else do you want!?!?

  • http://www.optimabbc.be Max

    Your all F@G’s!

  • http://jsdklfl.com Jukai

    And yet SLAM will probably leave Max’s hateful comment up for the long run. Man, this sh*thole keeps going more downhill.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.l.brewer3 BlackPhantom

    I would comment but it seems pointless because some of these commenters are just…..goodness such stupidity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.l.brewer3 BlackPhantom

    You know what, screw it. As I grow up, I’m beginning to have alot of ideals on alot of things. Homosexuality being one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not typing admittance to homosexuality, I’m just saying the older I get the more I’m becoming more open to this society. But then again, I really hate this society’s ill treatment of the LGBT community. The household I’ve grown up in…..we’ll lemme put it like this. My father is one of the most homophobic people I know. Last time I visited him in Indianapolis was ’06. Not much changed, except for one big thing. My blood cousin(Aunt’s son) had just recently came out as a homosexual. He and my Uncle Manny would talk really bad of him, rejecting the idea that homosexuality is something he could’ve actually been born with, saying all he needed was “His a** stomped”. So I ended up barely even seeing during the time I was back. As things have progressed, more obviously my age, I’ve felt more increasingly accepting to homosexuality. As a matter of fact, one of my closest adult friends(and probably future job manager) is homosexual. We just need more progression as a society. We have to try to teach the idea that saying the word “f*ggot” to mean “lame” or “stupid” isn’t cool(sorry if I seem to be biting Grant Hill). It admittedly slips out of my mouth sometimes, but I have to try to stop the homophobia coming from me for now on, unfortunately there’s a lot of people too ignorant to actually try.

  • http://NBA.com EJ

    Gays need to shoot/beat a couple of homophobes who call them f@gs, so people will be scared to use it. Like blacks did with n*ggger. Or maybe not.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    I wrote a really, REALLY long comment addressing many of the fallacies expressed in here, but it disappeared into the ether.
    Anyway, I’m curious about why E.J. decided that black people should have some of special understanding for homosexuals because black people have been persecuted.
    Considering the fact that black people, according to national polls, have some of the strongest, most conservative religious beliefs in the country, and most conservative religious beliefs identify homosexuality as a clear sin, wouldn’t it make sense that black people, by and large, would oppose gay marriage?
    What are the numbers on conservative white people?
    Conservative Latinos?
    Conservative Jews?
    Wouldn’t Jewish people have a better understanding of the gay struggle than black people? I’m curious why when people discuss the struggles of homosexuals to obtain rights in America, they always use the black struggle. The two struggles share far fewer similarities than the Jewish struggle for acceptance in America when you think about. Both Jews and homosexuals have the ability to blend into mainstream society by suppressing certain information about themselves, this is not possible for blacks. Both Jews and homosexuals have faced sporadic violence, but nowhere near the widespread violence that has been commonplace in America in regards to black folks for centuries.
    Both Jews and homosexuals, despite being minorities, have greater wealth and influence than their size would seem to dictate. Not so for black people.
    It seems that the reason people don’t compare the gay struggle to the Jewish struggle is because of the Holocaust. As a black person, I find that bothersome. By the most generous estimates, 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. Three times that many black people died in the Middle Passage alone.
    Anyway, the Oppression Olympics is always entertaining.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    And this comment is bullsh*t.
    I know black history, and I haven’t said any of this stuff to take anything away from it, but to say that black people have been treated worse through out history is not correct. Yes slavery was a terrible thing and many blacks got killed during that time. But the thing is that if you got caught of being gay, that was pretty much instant death anywhere in the world, and still is today in some countries.
    By any objective measure, at least as pertains to American History, black people have been treated “worse” than homosexuals. Denying that obvious fact is bullsh*t. Now, that doesn’t take away from the injustice suffered by anyone, but anytime somebody writes some clearly false stuff like that, it means that a meaningful conversation with them is impossible.

  • http://slamonline.com Kap

    I sure hate when people who are not black and are ignorant of our history go around saying that the gays endured the same pain as us. You can hide your sexuality but its hard for me to paint my face white everyday to be accepted even in 2011. U guys are straight idiots.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    ^ This is not helpful..
    E.J. isn’t gay, nor does he speak for gay people. More importantly, it’s silly to call people names because they have a poor understanding of facts. That is ignorance, not stupidity. It only becomes stupidity when people are confronted with reality, and refuse to accept it.

  • http://slamonline.com Kap

    @Allenp…Its just shocking to me how many people in this country don’t realize what its like being a black man in America especially an educated one in a predominantly white workplace or environment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.l.brewer3 BlackPhantom

    Great points brought up by Allen