Gay Former NBA Exec Rick Welts: Nike Hungry to Sponsor Openly Gay Pro Athlete

The first openly gay pro athlete, whether he be in football, baseball, or basketball looks set to score sponsorship deals worth millions of dollars and a promise from Nike is already on the table, Bloomberg reports:

WeltsBy the time former Phoenix Suns executive Rick Welts’s I-am-gay announcement appeared on the front page of the May 15, 2011, New York Times, he already had revealed his secret to friends, co-workers and business associates. Among those told before the article was published were NBA Commissioner David Stern and senior executives at Nike Inc…

…Nike asked Welts to deliver a message to anyone thinking about becoming the first openly gay athlete in major U.S. team sports — the company wants him as an endorser.

Said Welts to Bloomberg: “They made it clear to me Nike would embrace it. The player who does it, they’re going to be amazed at the additional opportunities that are put on the table, not the ones that are taken off.”

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban called the opportunity "a marketing goldmine for all involved."

Gay marketing strategist Bob Witeck agreed: "the first openly gay team-sport athlete — provided he’s a recognizable name — would earn millions in endorsements and speaking engagements…"


  1. Matt26 says

    Excellent. Money talks in sports and Nike is one of the strongest brands amonn young generations.

  2. JP says

    Little Kiwi I think its generally accepted that there are tons of lesbian athletes. As usual, its just assumed “easier” for women to be out than men. Therefore, coming out in a male dominated locker room is seemingly more groundbreaking than coming out in a female locker room.

  3. Caliban says

    Little Kiwi, I know what you mean, but at the same time athletics fit the lesbian stereotype whereas gay men aren’t “supposed to be” interested in sports according to the stereotype. If they were talking about female athletes there would already be Subarus lined up around the block at Nike headquarters. (Relax, it was a joke!)

    So yeah, they’re after a gay MALE major league athlete to break the barrier for men. Good for them. And the promise of an endorsement deal from Nike, probably the most sought-after sponsor, ought to cause some serious thought behind a few closet doors.

  4. Steve says

    You missed the one major US sport that has tried the hardest to encourage and embrace a gay athlete: Ice Hockey.

  5. Rick says

    Well, I started to say in the thread yesterday about the NFL and other pro sports leagues encouraging gay players to come out that, next thing you know, they will be offering a $10 million bonus to the first gay athlete in a major team sport that comes out……and sure enough, it has now come to pass.

    This should make things really interesting….and if, despite this offer, we still see nobody stepping forward, we will know that my hunch was right and the repugnance so many masculine gay men have towards “the gay community” and the prevailing culture within it is so strong that they will refuse to associate with it even if they are PAID large sums of money to do so.

    I hope, instead, that they will see it as an opportunity to provide masculine role models for young gay men and teens and that they can be the catalysts to change that culture, from one that tries to undermine the natural masculinity of gay boys and men to one that encourages them to embrace that natural masculinity. That would be a huge development that would make it worth all the trouble to those who took the burden upon themselves.

    As for the question about lesbian athletes, not only are most female athletes ASSUMED to be lesbians until proven otherwise, but female athletes have nowhere near the high profile or audience or status as cultural icons that male athletes do…..because they are, of course, inferior athletes and few people therefore have any interest in them (over and aboe the assumption that they are lesbians).

    As the article linked below discusses, the WNBA only survived financially because of huge subsidies from the NBA, it does not attract even 10% of the TV audience that the NBA does, and attendance at games have been declining for several years now…..and the NBA is not nearly as popular as the NFL is, just for purposes of comparison.

    Finally, I am sure the reason that they did not offer the NIKE deal to an NHL player is that hockey is not really a major sport in the US the way it is in Canada–the only hockey player that has ever really been a household name in the States is Wayne Gretzky, so an NHL player coming out, great as it would be, would just not have that big of an impact in the US, although it would have a huge impact in Canada

  6. Bill of Sydney says

    Great news. The highly publicised story of Ian Roberts shows it is not a problem to come out as gay in professional contact sports (in his case Rugby league). See
    It also shows that Little Kiwi is correct: this would not be the first. Roberts was known as one of the toughest players in the league and had full respect of all players. He made no apologies for being gay and the rugby league world was supportive, with other players saying you need to be “true to yourself”. Given his high-profile case (books on Roberts as the world’s first openly gay athlete in Rugby) it is weird (or US-centric?) for Nike to imply this person would be “the first” in professional sports. But still a great outcome. If they want to pretend to themselves that they are sponsoring the first openly gay male athelete, then I’m not going to object.

  7. PAUL B. says

    Thanks Tom…now it’s just a matter of when
    and how. Let’s do lunch & come up with a plan.

  8. Francis #1 says

    Nike has long, long been a friend to the community. It’s definitely undoubted that companies are going to want to sponsor and promote the first openly gay/bi athlete in one of the four major sports. He’s going to be celebrated, tons of endorsements, love from the media.

    The problem is…….a lot of these athletes do not want all of that attention. Wade Davis in fact says all of the attention on proverbial players coming out makes it less likely they’ll do so because they feel pressured and insecure. Donte Stallworth said there’s still a lot of stigma against the LGBT community in the NFL and we saw the backlash Brendon Ayanbadejo got for saying (and then backtracking) four players were about to come out.

    What everyone needs to be doing is instead of focusing on a proverbial out player, make things better for closeted athletes who are struggling right now and do what is necessary to make the culture of sports one that’s less hostile with less stigma against us. Until that changes we’re not going to see anyone come out, at least in the NFL, NBA and MLB. NHL has taken the steps necessary to help closeted athletes within the league and truly do care and thus it’s likely the first out gay/bi player will be in hockey.

  9. GregV says

    Well, according to news reports, Sheryl Swoopes of the Houston Comets is “the only openly gay athlete to currently play a major professional team sport.”

    But sports is a very sexist arena, and I have my doubts that most American sports fans or commentators consider ANY female team in any sport to be among those they consider to be “major professional teams.”

  10. Artie_in_Lauderdale says

    Rick offers an interesting theory. Most believe that men in professional sports who are attracted to other men are fearful of the reaction of fundamentalist Christian morons. Rick proposes that men in sports who are attracted to other men are really acting out of the “repugnance so many masculine gay men have towards ‘the gay community’ and the prevailing culture within it.”

    Rick’s theory is contradicted by the everyday evidence we see of the hate and outright threats that come from fundamentalist Christians. Someone who believes that fear of fundamentalist Christian morons is not the motivation is clearly trying to hold them blameless and exonerate them for the fear and hate that they perpetuate in American society. Why would Rick be trying to do that? Your guess is as good as mine, but the possibility that really jumps out at the reasonable observer is that Rick’s own parents are Christian-influenced bigots, which provides Rick with the motivation to hold them guiltless and blameless, and shift the blame elsewhere. Your thoughts, fellow readers? One caveat. If you respond, be prepared for Rick to call you a Jewish liberal from the Northeast, regardless of your actual ethnic or regional background.

  11. GregV says

    … And I’ll just add to my last commrnt that I think. “major US team sports” essentially means the NFL, the NBA and MLB. That’s why that bowler who kissed his husband doesn’t count as the “first,” it’s why Sheryl Swoopes doesn’t count, and it’s why no currently-playing gay member of a women’s footballl team or a senior citizens’ softball team or a special-olympics track relay team or an “ultimate frisbee” player is going to ever be considered the first on a “major” team.

  12. Caliban says

    Based on what I’ve read the fear isn’t of the team owners and teammates, it’s of the potentially homophobic fans. If not the fans of your own team then of the teams you’re competing against.

    It’s a valid fear. This offer from Nike certainly sweetens the pot but the first openly gay man in one of the “big three” sports is going to need a hide like a rhinoceros.

    And Rick, as usual, is full of $#!T.

  13. Artie_in_Lauderdale says

    @ Caliban,

    Your suggestion that players are afraid of possibly homophobic fans rather than owners and teammates makes perfect sense. The solution, which is playing itself out right now, is obvious. Gay players will come out based on the regional location of their teams. The first to come out will be from teams in the Northeast and California, which are regions were Xtianist influence is rapidly collapsing.

  14. says

    @GregV: Scott’s getting a ton of exposure these days (and actually stuck another win and a 2nd up on the board in the past couple months, along with being on Billie Jean King’s winning League team last week), at least, among those of us who are following the PBA closely =)

  15. Rick says

    Fear of the fans? Fear of Fundamentalists?


    And what exactly is there to fear from them? A few scattered boos? “Disapproval”

    Does an athlete have anything more to fear from them than any other high-profile out individual?

    No. Of course not.

    Hilarious how some of you try so desperately to implicate the “right” bogeymen so as to stay within the bounds of political correctness, even though your notions make no sense at all, when closely examined.

    Consider that if your claims were correct, they would still not apply to RETIRED players, but hardly any of them have come out, either–only one NBA player, only one MLB player, no NHL players, and only a few NFL players.

    You always have to face the truth, sooner or later.

  16. steve says

    GregV: It’s not that people don’t value the contributions of those that you mentioned.

    The story is about an endorsement deal. It’s about money. In sports, you follow the money. Professional bowling and women’s basketball do not have the broad, mass appeal of the NFL or of MLB; or of the NBA or NHL. Those are sports with tens of millions of followers, and with billions upon billions of dollars in ticket revenues, TV rights revenues, local ad revenues, and more, at stake. No one is dissing the WNBA or PBA. But – when a sunday NFL game does a 45 rating, and a WNBA game does less than a 1 rating – you can see, from a monetary standpoint, why Nike’s focus, and the focus of everyone else, is on men’s major league sports. Even the NHL wasn’t mentioned by Andy in the original post, and it has a huge following and has been extraordinary at reaching out to gays.

    Follow the money.

  17. says

    @Artie – if “RICK” believed a word he typed, he’d put a face to his comments. He’d be an even more obnoxiously-visible and outspoken presence than MY gay @ss. why? simple – because he’d be adamant about representing what he feels “we other gays” aren’t representing.

    so why doesn’t RICK provide the URL and show himself? because he’s not Out, he’s not “masculine”, and he’s a complete coward.

    it’s just simple clear reality. the only men who scream about “hating effeminacy” can only do it anonymously, because they’re living wholly closeted cowardly lives. if they weren’t they’d put up and be VISIBLE.

    so yeah, he’s a lying coward who hates all the gay men who are Out, because he’s not. the good news? he’ll die alone. so, yay.

    the better news? guys like him are such wimps you’ll never have to interact with them in person in the Gay World – ever. they won’t be out and about having fun, with other gay people. they’re too busy blaming effeminate gay men for their own inability to go out and enjoy life.

    just as it should be 😀

  18. AfroL says

    If he does come out he better be damn good to earn that money and how lovely would it be if he was effeminate….as if effeminate men cant play sports.

  19. says

    Steve: on top of that, Nike’s not a PBA sponsor, and as someone with a tiny bit of experience in regional events (read: two), if the company doesn’t sponsor the Tour and pay a (rather substantial) sum of money every year, the bowler can’t use their equipment during tournament play.

    (I’ve found that out the hard way: gotta buy a new ball to replace the one I’ve used to qualify for a couple events simply b/c the company decided not to re-up a few years back! 😀 )

  20. Deidrefl72 says

    All this broo haha and speculation. Even if one does come out the gay community won’t be happy. They’ll continue the witch hunt for more just like in entertainment. And Nike putting money on the table will be money down the drain if the player is not at the level of Jose Bautista or Lebron James or already has a huge following. Kids, especially inner city/urban ones, wear the shoes of a winner or someone who looks like them. If the out player is white and not a quarterback a la a Tom Brady or cool like Brett Lawrie, America won’t blink twice. Period. It’ll be another news cycle like the AF generals coming out about UFOs…yawn. Clearly never satisfied, the gay community will be on the hunt again.

    And to Rick, there are tons of high profile women players who command money…ever heard of Serena Williams? And not everyone sees female athletes as stereotypically gay not even when I played collegiate tennis. Funny how more people OUTSIDE of sports are so concerned about this. Players just want to play. Many don’t want to be role models and have their every single waking moment monitored or held up for inspection.

    Its a sad day when you have to practically bribe someone to be a hero…you can’t get anyone to bite for millions and yet Jackie Robinson did it for $600 a month and a $3, 500 signing bonus;*

  21. two dads says

    A gay player should come out and be proud and be a role model. I look forward to it happening soon!

  22. David Hearne says

    Who gives a rat’s patoot about pro-sports? People drinking beer and yelling at televisions. The only thing worse than the heterosexual male bonding rituals of all this (high fives, belly bumps, yeah buddies, etc…. ) is gay people doing it.

    Gay men are supposed to follow MMA and kick boxing.

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