Social Issues January 2, 2013
Gay Bowler's Victory Kiss Broadcast

How's this for a sign of progress in the new year?

In what might be a broadcast first, ESPN has aired footage of an openly gay athlete kissing and hugging his husband after a victory.

Bowler Scott Norton defeated Jason Belmonte in a close finish to the 2012 Chameleon Championship in Las Vegas. After sealing the win, Norton's husband Craig Woodward rushed over to him to give him a kiss and hug, and ESPN didn't shy away.

You could almost say they were refreshingly matter-of-fact about the whole thing. Announcers referred to Norton and Woodward's marriage throughout the match, while Norton's openly gay status was framed as a backstory to his success as an athlete.

Norton came out publicly in 2011, inspired by Phoenix Suns CEO and President Rick Welts. 'It is extremely important for me to come out to show other gay athletes, both current and future, that it is important to come out to show that we are just like everyone else,' Norton said at the time. 'Being gay doesn't define who I am as a person or as a professional athlete. I'm also a professional bowler, a lawyer, caring, compassionate, strong, and many other things.

'It's important to show people that being gay has nothing to do with one's ability to do anything as a man, least of all compete in the highest level of sports.'

Among North America's four biggest sports leagues, Major League Baseball, NFL, NBA and NHL (remember the NHL?), there are currently no openly gay players, though pro boxer Orlando Cruz came out in October 2012 and ESPN ran a piece on it. Cruz is the only known active boxer to have done so.

According to the L.A. Times, there were around 4,000 players on active rosters in the four major leagues last year, and estimates for the U.S.'s gay and bisexual population live somewhere between two and 10 percent.

It's entirely plausible that there's a substantial number of pro athletes in the closet.

So when a major sports broadcaster like ESPN approaches a moment like Scott Norton's post-victory kiss with his husband like they would anything else, it can be seen as progressive, to say the least.

As for Norton, he's a hard-working advocate for gay rights, and as he wrote in an article for the PBA website, happy to serve as an inspiration for other gay athletes:

'I am very proud and happy with who I am and who I have become as a person, and I would hope that this will empower other gay athletes - past, present, or future - to come to terms with the truth about who they are and love themselves for who they are.'


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