Scott Norton Was The Face Of The Gay Community On PBA Tour

Scott Norton Was The Face Of The Gay Community On PBA Tour

Scott Norton would expend all his energy projecting an outgoing personality on the outside while inside he felt he was the face of the gay community.

Jun 2, 2021 by Jill Winters
Watch: Norton Had ESPN's First Gay Kiss

In addition to worrying about how to make the right adjustment on the bowling lanes and executing clutch shots against the best bowlers in the world, imagine you also felt this added layer of pressure that every move you made either added to or could change the perception of what the gay community is.

For Scott Norton, that is the weight he carried with him from the time he was a rising junior bowler in California to being the youngest member at the time on Team USA and then fulfilling his dream on the PBA Tour.

He would expend all his energy projecting an outgoing and friendly personality on the outside while inside he felt he was the face of the gay community. He was finally able to release some of the built-up anxiety at the 2012 World Series of Bowling Chameleon Championship.

“I had been married for a year and we had just bought a house together,” Norton said about his relationship with husband, Craig Woodward. “It was a lot of life stuff that happened, and I came in with a better mindset.”

His arm swing was free. He was focused on each shot, and he was bowling at South Point in Las Vegas, which is the same center where he won the 2010 World Series of Bowling Chameleon Championship. It had been two years since the lefty had won a tournament, and he did everything he could in his final two frames to defeat defending champion Jason Belmonte for the title.

“I threw four of the best shots I’ve ever thrown in the most pressure-packed situation I had been in in my life at that point,” said the 2011 PBA Rookie of the Year. “I did my job. Everything else was out of my hands and then the rest is history.”

Belmonte needed a strike and six pins to win the tournament for the second year in a row. He threw the ball slightly right of his target, the pins mixed around, and a messenger flew across the deck and tapped the 10 pin. It didn’t fall and Norton won 227-223. A flood of emotions and the weight of feeling like an outsider in the sport he dreamed to compete in were released. He finally felt validated.

“Thinking back on it, I almost pity that person because I know where those tears came from,” he reflected. “Those tears came from a place of finally feeling good enough. They were almost more tears of worth than they were of happiness.”

And then came a historic moment as Norton’s husband came out to congratulate him on the win. The spouses hugged and kissed each other just like other winners have done after winning a tournament. A few months after the show aired, an article by Outsports went viral announcing Norton’s winning moment was the first nationally televised same-sex kiss seen on ESPN.

“Honestly, it felt like such a momentous thing that should have helped bring a lot of attention to the sport and how unique and diverse the sport is,” he said. “I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little disappointed. I was fully ready to carry the ball and show people our little world. But it never happened.

“Representation is what breaks down barriers,” he said. “To actually get faces out there of the people that are doing sports that allows people to see people instead of nameless communities. When you see the faces and you hear the stories of the people it is a lot harder to say bad things and demonize them.”

One of those iconic faces representing the gay community while crossing over into bowling is Billie Jean King, owner of the New York City Kingpins that competes in the PBA League. Norton was on the team owned by one of his role models. During the league’s inaugural season in 2013, they won and claimed the Elias Cup. King was there for the winning moment.

Norton got the chance to talk to tennis legend after the win while they waited at the airport to head home. He remembers her being genuinely excited for the whole team and the two of them also talked about being gay in sports.

“She was one of the first people that I knew was gay,” he said about King. “And then to be that successful and out was an inspiration.” 

He may not realize it, but he is an inspiration himself.

Back when he was living in Utah and going to school, he faced a challenging situation while he was a junior director at a Brunswick bowling center. There were parents who pulled their kids out his program because they didn’t want their children around him. He dedicated hours helping kids and they were getting better. Eventually, some of those parents changed their minds.

“It forces people to deal with these scary stereotypes they have been exposed to that have no basis in reality,” as he reflected on the experience. “Diversity is important and there is a place in this world for everybody. So, it was nice helping the kids and the parents open their eyes to the world.”

Prior to being on Team USA, Norton came out to another youth bowler who was also a friend.  

“I was like 15 or 16 and he was gay, too,” he said about this now more than 20-year friendship. “We were the first to be able to trust that information with each other. I don’t know that I can overstate the bond that creates when you are in such a vulnerable point in your life, and you find people that love and accept you no matter what.”

He credits having a strong husband and family, which includes his mother, Virginia, who is the USBC Hall of Fame, with helping him through the years. Another person who always accepted him was his best friend, PWBA champion Missy Parkin, who even roomed with him on the PBA Tour until the PWBA made a return in 2015. He refers to her as the Grace to his Will, a reference to the hit comedy show, Will & Grace. When she left the tour, he roomed by himself which he said was not easy, but he understood where the guys were coming from.

Even though Norton stopped bowling professionally in 2015 – after experiencing “severe burn out” – and he considers himself “basically retired,” he still has bowlers thanking him for being a role model and proving to them they can pursue a dream career in bowling just like he did.  He was recently thanked by a youth bowler and he is optimistic the younger generation will have a major impact on the diversity of the game moving forward.

“It is not just the LGBT player base,” he said. “It’s African-Americans, it’s Latinos, it’s Asians. There just needs to be outreach in the communities to give especially young people role models in those different categories to really show them bowling is for everybody and create excitement among all walks of life.”

The same-sex kiss was nine years ago but Norton feels like media outlets have become more comfortable showing those types of moments and openly talking more about diversity and representation. He would love to see media outlets take more chances by telling the stories of diverse athletes to give everyone the chance to see people like them and believe they can do it too.

“I remember what it was like for me, and I was taught from a young age to leave the world better than when you came into it,” he said on the impact he wants to leave. “That was the major driving factor to me wanting to stay out on tour and really show people that I was just like anybody else.”

For now, Norton and Woodward are living in Mission Viejo, California. Norton opened, Nerdy By Nature Escape Rooms in October 2019 and is seeing business pick up after the pandemic lockdown. And if given the opportunity, he would love to do commentary at a PBA event held at Bayside Bowl in Portland, Maine. If he ever gets the chance, he will likely nail it just like how he has handled other big moments in his life.