By Scott Norton
Sports can be a lonely place if you are a gay man. Locker rooms become uncomfortable places where you have to watch your every move and look, while simultaneously ignoring the many off-color remarks of your fellow competitors. It can be difficult going from place to place, never sure how the local population will react to your presence for nothing more than simply being yourself.
The same is true for the bowling world, perhaps more so. We travel to many small towns and rural areas as part of the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) tour where being an LGBT individual is not only not accepted but potentially dangerous. It was a lonely world because it was one that I had to traverse alone, with no one to identify with or to share the difficulties faced on a nearly daily basis of being out in sports.
It came as a great relief when on a seemingly not-so-special April day, I was suddenly no longer alone as an out professional bowler. It was amazing to realize that there was now someone I could not only share experiences with but also could potentially help and mentor. I could pay it forward as thanks to those who were there to help and mentor me through my coming out. I was recently able to sit and chat with Anthony about that day, his experiences since and his vision of sports diversity moving forward.
Scott Norton: What draws you to sports?
Anthony Pepe: A big part of what drives me to sports is the competition. I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of being nervous in pressure situations because it tests your wits and allows you to truly focus and commit to shot-making. It sets up a unique frame of mind that is unique to sports competitions.
How are you able to stay focused in those pressure moments?
I have a pre-shot routine that helps prevent my mind from wandering, helping me stay in the moment.
What is your experience as a professional bowler? It’s not exactly a nine-to-five job.
My routine consists of going to my local bowling center four days a week, two hours each day and working on versatility. On the PBA they have many different ways they can distribute oil onto the lane and it is essential to be able to attack all kinds. That is why I practice on different oil patterns, work on varying my speed, release and accuracy.
What do you do outside of bowling to maintain the balance between work and play?
Outside of the bowling center I enjoy going to the gym everyday to keep up on my physical fitness. Since many local tournaments happen on weekends, I tend to lift heavier weights earlier in the week so that I’m not sore when it comes time to compete. I am all about always living a healthy lifestyle and staying fit.
What accomplishments are you proud of?
A goal I have accomplished is telling the world I’m gay; something I never thought I’d be able to do because of all of the judgmental people in the world. Coming out lifted a weight off of my shoulders because I am NOW able to be me and express who I am as a human being. That is priceless.
What goals do you have yet to accomplish?
When you win a title on the PBA tour your biggest goal is to win another. I don’t want to be a “one-hit wonder” and never make a telecast again because I have put too much time and HEART into the sport I love the most. Patience is a virtue. And I know as long as I keep believing in my own reflection and have an optimistic mindset, good fortune will come.
What about diversity in sports as a whole? Where do you see sports diversity heading?
For many years the window of opportunity for people of color in professional sports seemed only narrowly open. As the last few racial and gender report cards have shown, the window has opened much more in the past few years. It is my hope that we can seize on that momentum and get to a place where coming out isn’t a headline but instead is a place where all athletes are judged by their performance and not their personal life.
What does sports diversity mean to you?
Since my coming out in April, I’ve understood that there are quite a few gay athletes in a variety of sports. Reading their heartfelt stories is so meaningful to me and to anyone else who is struggling with being gay. Com ing out is incredibly difficult, but it certainly eases your everyday life. The fact that I can be my authentic self AND compete in the sport I love makes me feel like one of the luckiest people in the world.
Photo courtesy of Anthony Pepe.
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