Rick Welts, the president of the Phoenix Suns, made history yesterday.
Not because of something his team did or because of a trade he pulled off; instead, Welts made history by taking the biggest risk of his career: He came out of the closet.
Welts met with friends, business associates and a reporter to announce that he's gay over the weekend. In doing so, he became the first executive in any professional sport to be openly gay.
But while Welts' decision to come out was a risk, there's no doubt it was the right one to take.
I shouldn't have to explain to you why it's such a risk for Welts to be openly gay; Homophobia is still rampant in the United States and around the world. There are plenty of ignorant people out there who don't want to see a homosexual in a position like the one Welts has.
He can expect some serious vitriol to come his way in the form of an obnoxious fraction of the general populace—people who seem to think it's okay to belittle someone because of their sexual preferences.
People who hurl obscenities, threats and other harsh words his direction will now become a real risk.
On top of that, Welts took a risk because of the homophobia still present in sports today. Why do you think there are no openly gay athletes? Why are there no openly gay coaches?
Even if it's not true, the perception is that homosexuals would be shunned by their teammates should they come out.
the risk was great, that doesn't mean that coming out wasn't the right thing to do. Welts shouldn't have to hide who he is because of a tiny group who feel a person should be treated differently because they are attracted to people of the same sex. He's now become a pioneer—the first person active in the sports community to come out.
Welts didn't just come out, though; he's offered to serve as a mentor to other homosexuals who want to pursue a career in sports. He's voluntarily taking on the mantle of being the role model for the GLBT community in the sports world—the public figure they need to build on.
Most importantly, Welts' coming out helped to show that, perhaps, the sports world is more ready for an openly homosexual athlete than we thought.
This is the big news: Not that Welts is gay, but that, in coming out, no one seemed to care.
None of the Suns' players or coaches or staff came out and made a big deal out of this. David Stern didn't make a big deal out of this. They all basically said, "Who cares? He's good at what he does."
In doing that, they've shown that it doesn't matter whether you're gay, bi or straight. As long as you can do your job well, most players, coaches and executives won't care.
Not everyone will be as accepting, of course.
There are always going to be players or coaches (or agents) who don't agree with homosexuality for one reason or another. But Welts' coming out showed that, perhaps, the sports world won't have quite as far to go to accept a gay athlete.
It showed that, ultimately, teammates and coaches care more about "Do they want to play?" and "How can they help the team?" than they care about "Are they gay?"
In the end, that's what makes this such a good thing. I mean, sure, it's great to have an openly gay executive. But the reaction to his announcement was even more important.
It's what made this risk the right one to take and will help an athlete to have the courage to come out in the near future.