With the announcement Monday in Sports Illustrated that NBA player Jason Collins is the first athlete in a major team sport to publicly acknowledge that he is gay, PBA star Scott Norton knows firsthand what the realities can be for an athlete who comes out.
As an athlete who is gay, the 2012-13 PBA Player of the Year contender knows very well what the ramifications of being openly gay can mean to someone who makes a living in sports. During the 2012-13 PBA World Series of Bowling, Norton won the Chameleon Championship for his second career title. Long before the media storm after Collins’ announcement, Norton’s victory gained national media attention when he embraced his husband Craig Woodward during the victory celebration on the ESPN telecast.
“It takes massive courage, so of course I applaud Jason for making the announcement,” Norton said. “But I believe it’s something that an athlete has to decide for himself or herself. I believe it’s up to each individual on how they want to handle it.”
On May 19, 2011, Norton announced publicly on pba.com that he was gay shortly after Phoenix Suns CEO and President Rick Welts also went public with his sexuality.
“I can’t speak specifically for Jason or anyone else for that matter, but in my case it wasn’t about me,” Norton said of his decision to make the announcement. “It was for the people around me, the community and a movement. It’s who you represent, not personally what you gain from it – at least that was the case for me.
“If there is a disappointment that I have, it’s maybe that what happened to me and others didn’t get the hype that Jason is getting,” said Norton who is also a practicing attorney in California. “I think you see that by the way they’re positioning Jason’s announcement as the first in a major team sport to come out when in fact there other athletes in other sports who have already done it.”
After winning the Chameleon Championship earlier this season by defeating Jason Belmonte, 227-223, Norton went on to win the Earl Anthony Players Championship for his third career title, defeating Sean Rash, 219-191, in the championship match. He also was part of the New York City WTT KingPins presented by GEICO team, owned by tennis legend Billie Jean King, that won the Elias Cup to conclude the inaugural PBA League season.
Norton did feel it was important to clarify that his situation was a little different than Collins’, however.
“In my case, it was a little different because I never hid the fact that I was gay since I was 17 years old,” Norton said. “It can be different for everyone. It’s understandable for an athlete to be hesitant because they don’t know exactly how it will affect their career. But one thing I think an athlete will find is that if they do feel that it is appropriate to come out, they will have a lot of support. I know I have had a great deal of support from among my fellow competitors.”