The former executive of a National Basketball Association (NBA) team has said that the first professional sports player to come out in the US will benefit rather than suffer, potentially earning millions in endorsements for being openly gay in the field.

Rick Welts, the former executive of NBA team the Phoenix Suns, came out as gay in 2011, telling the media: “This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits. Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation.”

This week he revealed to business and financial news site Bloomberg that before the news went public he had told Nike executives, who informed him that they would want to endorse any professional big name athlete who came out as gay.

“They made it clear to me Nike would embrace it,” said Welts. “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.”

Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA team the Dallas Mavericks, weighed in on the issue by saying “it would be a marketing goldmine for all involved.”

Bob Witeck, a marketing consultant with American Airlines, told Bloomberg the player would earn millions in endorsements and through being paid for speeches, and said “There’s higher reward than risk right now. The first time you do something you get most of the benefit.”

Speculation over professional gay athletes has been rife in the news recently. Earlier this month American football player and equal rights advocate Brendon Ayanbadejo said that he thinks several NFL players could come out “sooner than you think”, and that he was in talks with four players who might all come out on the same day.

Other sporting figures have been less progressive. Rutgers University fired coach Mike Rice on Wednesday after sports broadcaster ESPN aired footage of him physically abusing basketball players and calling them “fucking faggot” and “fucking fairy”. However, he is set to receive a $100,000 (£66,000) bonus.