Sam could be first openly gay player in NFL
Rick Welts has 36 years of experience in the NBA, including stints with Seattle, Phoenix and the league office. (AP)
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OAKLAND -- Golden State Warriors President Rick Welts is one of the few people who knows what NFL draft prospect Michael Sam might be going through after announcing he is gay this week.
And Welts is as eager as anybody to see how it all plays out.
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. Just watching him the last few days and seeing the confidence and how strongly he felt about what he decided to do, I think the NFL combine got a lot more interesting and I think the draft did, too. 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."
Sam, an All-America defensive end with Missouri who was the Southeastern Conference's co-defensive player of the year, made his announcement Sunday night. He could become the first openly gay NFL player.
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."