Posted on May 27, 2011 - by ChuckFinder
Rick Welts came out two weeks ago Sunday.
The NBA plays on. Professional sports, sexual orientation, testosterone, machismo, homophobia and the roundball planet tarry forward. Life as we know it continues unabated. It was as if it barely made a blip on even the short-attention-span radar.
So that’s a good thing, right?
In an America consumed by perception, or at least prepared to consume itself over perception, nothing has changed.
Isn’t that a bad thing, too?
After all, the objective in going so public for Welts, 58 — the Phoenix Suns CEO and a well-respected front-office man from the Los Angeles Dodgers, NBA and more — was to “engender conversation about the topic. . . . 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.”
Kobe Bryant‘s stated intention, amid his own verbal homophobic slur and post-$100,000 fine, to eradicate the use of that word he invoked derogatorily at an official: Hasn’t worked. Bulls forward Yoakim Noah used it just this week toward a fan at an NBA Eastern Conference final game. (Let’s remember, too, as I pointed out here six weeks ago, the convoluted message the NBA sent by fining soon-to-be-retired Lakers coach Phil Jackson 50 percent more than Bryant’s $100,000 when Jackson used the NBA slur “lockout.”)
John Amaechi, the ex-Penn Stater who was the first major U.S. pro athlete to public say he was guy, admitted in the same New York Times where Welts eloquently came out that he was surprised by the surprise over Bryant.
Look who’s surprised now: Nobody. There is no discussion over the first U.S. pro-sports official to publicly announce he is gay. There was no national discussion after, at most, one week. Only one athlete publicly followed Welts’ suit, former Villanova player Will Sheridan.
That doesn’t mean acceptance reigns. That’s a perception akin to the postulate that racial or religious discrimination no longer exists in this country. In other words, it’s either better hidden in some places or eroding gradually all over.
Perhaps the highlight of the discourse came from none other than loquacious Charles Barkley, who told Washington Post columnist Mike Wise on a Beltway radio broadcast: “First of all, every player has played with gay guys. It bothers me when I hear these reporters and jocks get on TV and say, ‘Oh, no guy can come out in a team sport. These guys would go crazy.’ First of all, quit telling me what I think. I’d rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can’t play.
“Any professional athlete who gets on TV or radio and says he never played with a gay guy is a stone-freakin’ idiot. I would even say the same thing in college. Every college player, every pro player in any sport. has probably played with a gay person.
“First of all, society discriminates against gay people,” Barkley continued. “They always try to make it like jocks discriminate against gay people. I’ve been a big proponent of gay marriage for a long time, because, as a black person, I can’t be in for any form of discrimination at all.”
If nothing else, feel for Welts. He endured the death of one partner from AIDs, the break-up of another who couldn’t live under a shroud of secrecy, the passing of his own mother who supported him. If he had foretold this reaction, or lack thereof, perhaps he would’ve gone public sooner.
Perhaps the PR lesson here is this: Homophobia moves America’s needle in misdeeds, words and pictures — both Bryant and Noah committed the modern-day sin of getting caught on camera. Sports America apparently doesn’t care much about the closed-door personal life of an athlete. . . or CEO. At least, not until the next few news cycles.