After Coming Out in May, Rick Welts Set to Step Down as Phoenix Suns CEO this Week to Pursue Other Opportunities

September 12, 2011 – 9:00 am by Michael Bean

Rick Welts, the President and CEO of the Phoenix Suns since 2002, has just a few short days left at his post before moving on to other pursuits. If you’re curious as to why this might be featured on Sports Radio Interviews, perhaps you need a reminder that Welts made headlines in May when he publicly decided to out himself as a homosexual. According to Welts, the feedback and support he’s received in and out of the sports world has been tremendous, and he’s looking forward to the next chapter of his professional life — be it the speech circuit or undertaking a book project — before perhaps returning to the NBA sometime down the road.

Welts joined XTRA 910 in Phoenix with Bickley and MJ to talk about why he’s deciding to step down as CEO from the Suns effective September 15th, what his future plans are away from the game of basketball, how his life has changed since publicly coming out, whether he feels it’s at times been a burden to constantly be associated with his sexual orientation, how Suns owner Robert Sarvar has been nothing short of tremendous and entirely supportive throughout his process, why he thinks the Suns are in a great position as an organization moving forward, and when he feels the right time to write a book will be.

On why he’s deciding to step down as CEO of the Suns at this point in time:

“Well, I’ve only developed only one skill in my 36 years in this business, and that’s having a great sense of when it’s time to leave a job. Now is the right time. I drove over to Coronado and talked to Robert Sarver about two months ago and told him this is what I was thinking and he and his ownership partners have been absolutely terrific in trying to make that happen for me. And they have. I have a big smile on my face today and a lot of excitement, but this has also been a great nine years, I’ve worked with amazing people — Bickley I’d even throw you in there.”

On what he’s planning to do next? Retire?

“No!!! Retiring? I’ve got way too much energy and get bored way too easily to consider retirement. I made this little announcement in May — you may have not heard about it — but as a result of that, I’m going to be spending a lot of time on the rubber chicken circuit, and I’ve got a few colleges to speak to, and a few conferences and had some really interesting book offers. I don’t know, any number of those things could occupy my time. I think inevitably you’re going to find me back running a team somewhere I hope. But that’s all in the future for me right now. I’m doing a very un-Rick Welts thing in taking this leap without really knowing what that next thing is.”

On how his life has changed since his coming out announcement:\

“Well I was back at the U.S. Open talking to Billie Jean King this week, so that’s one way my life has changed. And I had to make a little speech at the U.S. Open on some award they were giving me, and Billie Jean came up to me afterwards and said ‘you know you didn’t use the word gay during the entire conversation. Are you comfortable, are you okay with that? Because it’s okay if you aren’t, I just wanted to point that out to you.’  So I needed to make sure now that anytime I’m in a public setting now I’m using the word so Billie will be proud of me. But I would say that the overwhelming response that I got — the thousands of emails, the hundreds of letters (people actually write letters, I don’t know if you know that, but people actually writer letters). A lot of them came from all the people I’ve ever worked with in my life, tremendously appreciated. However, the ones I would say are the most meaningful to me are the ones from the parents of kids who are struggling with this issue of their sexual orientation, from the kids themselves. And then from people in my industry who I don’t know, who are in the same situation I was in most of my career. Just people who wanted to connect with somebody that would understand. And the whole idea of doing this was the hope that by telling my story in such a public way, it might convince some kid out there who has a passion of sports — or frankly anything else — that you really can do whatever you want to do, and you’re not prevented from doing that just because of who you are. And if it served that purpose, than it was really worthwhile.”

If it ever gets tiresome always being associated with his sexual orientation:

“Well it’s funny, I’ll tell you, in January I sat down with this big media guru friend of mine in New York to really test whether or not doing this in such a public way would really have such an opportunity to have an impact. And he and I had never had  the conversation before, and he looked across the table and said, ‘Well, at least you know what your obituary is going to say now.’  From that point on, I kind of knew what I was signing up for. With all the great things that have happened since — this hasn’t been imposed from the outside, it comes from inside — but I truly do feel a sense of responsibility to try to do something with this platform that’s been created. That’s always going to be a part of what I do; sports will also always be a part of what I do. I think just for me as a person, it’s going to be important to me to pursue that in a way that hopefully I can improve and increase the dialogue on this whole topic of sexuality in sports and try to help us find their way through it.”

If the difficulty of working with Robert Sarvar had anything to do with his decision to step down:

“Absolutely not. In fact, if there’s a good guy in this story, he’s a good guy in this story. And I would absolutely confirm on a scale of 1 to 10 he is not an easy guy everyday to work for. I will tell you that the guy that I worked for before him, David Stern for 17 years, is off-the-charts in difficulty to work for. So Robert is a piece of cake, okay? He’s got a wonderful heart. He’s got this thing about wanting to win that I think every fan should appreciate. And through this process, he’s been nothing but tremendous.”

On mentioning earlier that he would ‘buy stock in the Suns’ right now if he could, suggesting that he thinks the Suns are in great shape as an organization:

“Yep, because of what’s been invested in the infrastructure on the basketball side. Last season was our first step, and I can tell you that the resources, the personnel, the systems that have been invested in over the course of the last 12 months are extraordinary. I’m a big believer in the people we’ve brought in, and we’ve made big investments in everything that is possible to invest in in building the infrastructure to be a successful basketball organization. And I really think that’s going to bare fruit. Whether that’s one year, two years, three years, I’m not sure. But it’s going to happen, and I think when it does, this is going to be a team that’s going to be right in the thick of things and competing for a championship again.”

When does he know is the right time to write his book:

“Great question, because when I was looking for advice on how and when to make my announcement, my assumption that I was trying out on a couple of my friends was ‘look I guess what you do is you write a book, and then you go out on a book tour, isn’t that what you do?’ And one very wise person said to me, ‘no, no, no, you’ve got it all wrong. What you need to do in your experience is go through this whole process and capture not only that experience, but also what happened afterwards which is going to make it a lot more interesting journey, and a lot more interesting read. So that was good advice. I don’t know when exactly the right time is, but I’ve had some wonderful experiences in a lifetime of sports, been around some amazing people, and probably about the time I’m ready to retire would be the right time to write it. So…”

Listen here to Welts with Bickley and MJ on XTRA Sports 910 in Phoenix

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