OAKLAND – Saying “it took a man of great courage to do what he did today,” Warriors president Rick Welts offered praise and support for Jason Collins on Monday after the Wizards center became the first active athlete in any of the four major U.S. sports to announce he is gay.
Welts, a former top executive in the league office who had a major role in turning All-Star weekend from a Sunday game coupled with minor events into the NBA extravaganza of today, has been at the forefront of any conversation involving sports and homosexuality since he came out two years ago in a New York Times article. When Collins made a similar decision, via Sports Illustrated, Welts once again stepped into the role of pseudo-spokesman, only this time in the unique setting of the Warriors practice court on an off day for the team as it prepared to head to Denver for Game 5 of the playoffs on Tuesday.
“This is such a personal thing to reach the point in your life where you’re prepared to do this,” Welts said. “I’m very proud of him. It’s a very, very courageous thing that he chose to do. I read the story. It came through that it was very authentic. It came through as very, very genuine. He’s somebody who didn’t have the benefit of somebody going before him in the same situation to learn, to watch, to see how people would react. It takes a man of great courage to do what he did today. I’m happy for him. He’s going to be able to be the complete Jason Collins every day for the rest of his life.
“I think he probably knows what he signed up for. He’s going to face a whole bunch more television cameras and reporters than he probably has over the course of the last couple seasons. But clearly, it’s somebody who’s given this a lot of thought. He’s prepared for it and it’s what he signed up for. There’s been a lot of speculation about when, who, how (an athlete from any of the major sports would come out). And that speculation’s been put to rest now and we’ll always remember that Jason Collins was the first player to do this.”
Asked whether Collins, who becomes a free agent on July 1, will have more trouble finding landing a contract, Welts said, “If he can convince a coach and general manager that he can play and help their team, he’ll have another job…. It’ll all be what he can do on the court.”
Welts, who runs business operations for the Warriors and has no voice in basketball decisions, was pressed: How can he be so convinced the decision by teams whether or not to pursue Collins will not be strictly about on the court?
“I just think that’s where we are,” Welts said. “We’re lacking behind where our society is on this issue. To some degree, we caught up a little bit today.”
Warriors coach Mark Jackson, meanwhile, walked a very fine line when asked about Collins’ announcement, showing support for Collins without compromising his own beliefs.
“I will say this,” Jackson said. “We live in a country that allows you to be whoever you want to be. As a Christian man, I serve a God that gives you free will to be who you want to be. As a Christian man, I have beliefs of what’s right and what’s wrong. That being said, I know Jason Collins, I know his family, and am certainly praying for them at this time.”
When asked if Collins will face a stigma around the league and within locker rooms if Collins is signed for next season, Jackson said, “That’s not for me to answer.” In fact, a former veteran player and current coach is exactly the person to answer. Plus, Jackson was an analyst for Nets television broadcasts when Collins played there, and Jackson was a Jazz teammate of John Amaechi before Amaechi came out after retiring.
“It’s something that obviously being around Jason, and I played with John Amaechi in Utah, that there’s a reason why in these situation these players are at the end (of their career) or done,” Jackson said. “So obviously that answers itself. Right, wrong or indifferent, it is something that’s new to people.”