By ANTONIO GONZALEZ
2014-02-11 11:42 PM
OAKLAND, California (AP) -- Rick Welts, president of the NBA's Golden State Warriors, is one of the few people who knows what NFL draft prospect Michael Sam might be going through after the American college football star announced this week that he is gay.
And Welts is as eager as anybody to see how it all plays out. None of North America's four major pro sports leagues, including the National Football League and the National Basketball Association, have ever had an openly gay player.
Welts, who became the first openly gay NBA executive when he revealed his sexual orientation in a front page story of The New York Times in May 2011 while with the Phoenix Suns, said he's looking forward to the day such announcements are no longer a big deal. But he's still not sure how far away that day is in sports.
"I think we're still in the midst of it being a really big story," Welts said before the Warriors beat the Philadelphia 76ers 123-80 late Monday night. "And if you could ever pick somebody to play this part, I think the right guy is going to play it.
"It's going to be fascinating to watch as he walks through this, but I really do think he's the right guy for this."
Last year, it had seemed as if the NBA would become the first major North American league with an openly gay athlete. Jason Collins, a 35-year-old reserve center, came out after last season when he was a free agent, but he was not signed this season.
England's John Amaechi became the first openly gay former NBA player in 2007, three years after retiring.
Sam, an All-American defensive player with the University of Missouri, made his announcement Sunday night. Sam was co-defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, traditionally the toughest in college football.
Count Welts among those rooting for Sam.
The Warriors executive recalled feelings of relief and joy in the days after his announcement. In the nearly three years since, Welts said the responses have been overwhelmingly positive, and he encourages others gay athletes to come out -- when the time is right for them.
"I think it's more opening that part of your life to people you really care about that you've chosen not to share," Welts said. "And that's hard when you care about the people you're around and the people you work with, it's hard not to be able to share that part of your life. It's definitely an enriching experience, and it's an additive to everything I've experienced in sports before."
Welts also knows that some might view Sam's situation differently.
"I think it absolutely will depend on the particular team," Welts said. "I'm not naive to think there aren't potentially some owners or executives out there who will say, 'Eh, I'm not so sure now.' But also, I hope, there are a lot who would say there's an opportunity to do something that I think our fans would actually embrace. And if we're supposed to win football games, if this guy helps us win football games, that's somebody we should have on our roster."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP