NBA veteran Jason Collins is the first active NBA player to openly reveal his homosexuality, but he's not alone in the NBA world.
Collins discussed his sexuality in a Sports Illustrated article published Monday: “I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.”
The news has reverberated throughout the professional sports landscape, and one NBA executive was particularly happy to hear the news. Serving as the president and chief executive of the Phoenix Suns at the time, Golden State Warriors president Rick Welts came out two years ago in a New York Times article and has since operated as the highest-ranking professional in American sports to be an openly gay man.
Following Monday's news of Jason Collins, Welts spoke about the issue at the Warriors practice facility. Welts' most poignant observation?
“Society is way ahead of sports on this issue, and I think today, we came closer to catching up."
A large step for sexuality
In the New York Times article published May 2011, Welts was quoted as saying, “This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits. Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation."
Said Welts, in front of a crowd of reporters on Monday afternoon:
He came through as very authentic. He came through as very, very genuine. He is somebody who didn't have the benefit of somebody going forward in the same situation to learn, to watch, to see how people would react. It takes a man of great courage to do what he did today. I'm happy for him, because he's going to be able to be the complete Jason Collins every day for the rest of his life.
Still a polarizing topic
The conversation has sparked debate on Twitter.
The dialogue has been mostly supportive of Collins, as evidenced by a tweet from Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, who two years ago was fined by the NBA for his on-court use of a homophobic slur.
Kobe Bryant @kobebryant
Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don't suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU2013-4-29 16:01:42
The incident occurred just one month prior to him coming out, so Welts was pleased to see Bryant was one of the first to support Collins.
Bryant's words were indicative of the majority opinion in the NBA blogosphere. But there have been other voices, too.
Richard Deitsch @richarddeitsch
Fascinating @OTLonESPN on Jason Collins as Chris Broussard says homosexuality is an "open rebellion" to God.2013-4-29 19:25:30
The religious element to the conversation is potent, as seen in the opinion of ESPN's Chris Broussard.
Broussard's comments were not part of the discussion with Welts, but the Warriors president did point to all of these instances to helping grow an important conversation.
One of the more telling reactions may have come from the NFL, as Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace tweeted: "All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH..."
He followed that with "I'm not bashing anybody don't have anything against anyone I just don't understand it."
He later deleted both tweets and wrote:
Mike Wallace @Wallace17_daKid
Never said anything was right or wrong I just said I don't understand!! Deeply sorry for anyone that I offended2013-4-29 17:31:11
The next steps for Collins and the NBA
The importance of Wallace's tweet is that it underscores the misunderstanding of homosexuality in the professional sports world and is indicative of how others may react in a shared locker room.
The Warriors president called these all learning moments and important steps to grow an understanding of the topic.
Welts said that since he announced his sexuality, he has had zero problems within the macho environment of the NBA. He said that of the thousands of people who reached out to him after he came out, he didn't receive one truly negative sentiment.
Welts said Monday that his decision then was made in hopes that it would also make it easier for others to be open about who they are. He said Collins' choice to step forward will hopefully do the same for others.
Monte Poole, a columnist for the Bay Area News Group, followed Collins during his time at Stanford and spoke to the significance of this moment and what it may mean going forward:
The conversation will continue to move. But as Welts pointed out, Jason Collins' first step to come forward with his sexual identity will allow for that wider discussion in sports.