One of the more interesting reactions to Jason Collins’ announcement took place early Monday on a road in northern California.
That’s where Rick Welts was driving to work. Welts is the president of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. In 2011, when he was with the Phoenix Suns, Welts became the first major sports executive to come out. So naturally, as he puts it, his phone “started blowing up” Monday after the Collins story broke.
And it almost cost him. A lot.
As Welts drove on that northern California road, a state trooper pulled Welts over for driving and talking on his cell.
“You got me,” Welts told the cop, “but there’s a funny story that goes with this. We had a player announce he was gay today.” The officer asked who it was. Welts told him about Collins; whereupon the officer said to Welts, “So how’s that going for YOU?” Welts said, “It’s going pretty well.” But not as well as when the trooper told Welts: “You’ve got a free pass today!”
So Welts’ first thank you to Collins on Monday was for the $200 ticket he avoided.
Welts told the story at an impromptu press conference with Bay Area reporters. He said he’s very proud of Collins, calling what the basketball player did “very, very courageous.”
Welts said he’s happy for Collins because “he’ll be able to be the complete Jason Collins every day for the rest of his life” — a completeness Welts has felt since his public admission two years ago. He says he hopes Collins has an experience similar to his; Welts says there’s really been nothing negative following his announcement in 2011.
“I think if kind of defies logic,” Welts says, “but of the thousands and thousands of people who reached out to me through emails or texts or letters, I did not get one truly negative response.”
Welts says attitudes in this country are shifting quickly. He notes LA Lakers star Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 in 2011 for using an anti-gay slur during a game; Monday, Bryant was one of the first to tweet a positive message to Collins:
Collins is a free agent, and Welts says if Collins gets another job in the NBA, it’ll be because of his basketball abilities.
“I think that’s where we (pro sports) are,” Welts says. “We’ve been lagging behind society, and I think we caught up today.”