Although Sharnee Zoll-Norman has mentioned her wife in past interviews, specifically about her absence from the WNBA following the 2008 season until she joined the Chicago Sky this year, it has not been publicized. "It's never been printed," she said. And she intentionally never had a formal coming-out.
"I never felt whether I'm gay, straight, bi, [or] whatever that my sexuality had anything to do with me as a basketball player, and I don't think it necessarily has anything to do with me as a person," she said. "If I was straight, I wouldn't have to come out and say that I was straight. So I've never had an official coming-out, or something where I felt I had to announce that I was gay. But everyone knows. I wear my wedding ring proudly; I have matching tattoos with my wife, and also have her name tattooed on me. We go a lot of places [together] and I surely don't hide it [that she's my wife.]"
In this exclusive coming-out interview with Ross Forman, Zoll-Norman of the Chicago Sky tells of life as a lesbian, including her first appearance in a Pride Parade, when she rides on a bus in the annual Chicago Pride Parade on Sunday alongside her wife, Serita Norman.
Sharnee Zoll-Norman is excited, but also a wee bit nervous for the Chicago Pride Parade on Sunday. This is, truly, her coming-out.
"Obviously, being a lesbian woman, Pride is something that you take pride in, no pun intended; you get excited to go to something like this, to be surrounded by people who are proud to be like you," she said. "You go there and don't have to feel uncomfortable; you don't feel like you're being judged. To go and represent myself, my family and the [Chicago] Sky is an amazing opportunity."
Zoll-Norman, a rookie with the Sky in her second season playing in the WNBA, will ride on the KPMG double-decker bus in the parade, along with her wife, Serita Norman.
The parade is expected to draw 850,000 or more.
"Wow. I didn't know there were going to be that many people," she said. "Now I'm getting a little nervous."
Zoll-Norman has attended pride parades in New York City and Washington D.C., but only as a spectator. Never on a float, never in the parade.
"I really have no idea what to expect, none," Zoll-Norman said. "Every city's Pride is kind of similar, but different. Every Pride has its own culture, its own way of celebrating.
"This is going to be an experience for me. I'm going to be taking everything in. I'm going to be taking a lot of pictures. It's going to be something that's fun for me and something that obviously I'll remember for the rest of my life."
Sharnee and Serita have been together for almost five years, and been married for almost four.
"I think we instantly had a connection," Zoll-Norman said. "I don't want to say it necessarily was love-at-first-sight because it took us a while, but once we met each other and went out on our first date, we have talked every day sincebe it on the phone, via Skype, via text. Every day since August 25, 2008.
"We've had rough patches, but I think that's what makes relationships work. If everything's perfect, you don't know that you can get through the adversity. When you get through adversity with somebody, then you can really see what they're made of, what you're really made of and if you're meant to be together. Our adversity [has] included being away from each other for [parts of] our first three years when I was overseas playing [basketball] and she was working in New Jersey. That distance [apart] helped us see where we stood in each other's lives, how committed we were to each other, how we were going to grow individually and as a couple."
The two met at a party hosted by Serita's cousin, which Sharnee admits was "fate" that they even met.
"I wasn't supposed to be there, but had gotten cut from a WNBA team and actually was home over the summer for the first time since, oh, I was about 10 years-old. She was there just by accident," Zoll-Norman said.
Their first date was at a restaurant in Philadelphia. Serita had emailed an invite to Sharnee, which she said was "really sweet."
A Philadelphia native, Zoll-Norman played at the University of Virginia from 2004-08 and then was the 29th overall pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft, nabbed by the Los Angeles Sparks. She was ultimately waived by the Sparks before playing a regular-season game for the team, then signed by the Minnesota Lynx. Zoll-Norman played six games for Minnesota in 2008, and then took her game overseas, playing professionally in Romania, Turkey and Poland.
Zoll-Norman has appeared in all nine games this season for the Sky (6-3), coming off the bench in each. She played about seven minutes on Wednesday, June 26, in Chicago's 87-74 win over the New York Libertythe same day DOMA was defeated.
"It's amazing," she said of the ending of DOMA. "I don't feel like we're any different than a man and a woman being married. I don't think I should have different rights because I'm in love with a woman. I'm really glad and happy to see that America has voted this way. I really feel it's an equality issue. It's not a same-sex issue, or a heterosexual issue. We're all people and we all should be equal in those terms, equal to love whoever we want."
Zoll-Norman said her family and friends have long known she is a lesbian, and her college coaches, too.
"Game day is now so much easier for me," she said. "Before, I used to get really nervous and would be thinking so, so much about the game that it would hinder me in terms of playing. I would worry about this and worry about that. Now I know, no matter what, I know that I'm playing for a higher power; I'm playing for God.
"My absence from the WNBA [following the] 2008 season to now, a lot of that had to do with my growth as a person, growth in my spirituality, and a lot of that had to do with my wife. Growing with her, and her teaching me things and us learning from each other has been incredible. She taught me a lot about patience, which I never really had. [Instead], I've wanted things to come to me quickly, and most of the time in my life, things have. But she's given me a different perspective on life. We grew up differently and she's shown me that, just because you work hard, sometimes in life that's not enough. She believes [in the theory] that, what you put out, you will get back. Before, I was a little bit negative. For instance, if something didn't go my way, I would kind of hang my head and pout about itand that was on and off the court. She kind of toughened me up a little in terms of, if things don't go your way, you try a different way. You don't pout and put negativity in the universe because it will come back to you. And, if you want something, you have to work for it, you also have to do the other things around you, not just in that aspect of your life."
Zoll-Norman said the two have talked about kids, "and it's possible, but I'm not sure."
They now live together in suburban Chicago.
"I love Chicago, other than the rain," she said. "I love it as a sports city. I love that the [Chicago] Blackhawks just won [the Stanley Cup.] I absolutely love Navy Pier. I have been to several beaches in Chicago and the suburbs, and getting to see the Chicago skyline from the beach is amazing."
She has not yet been to any Chicago gay bar.
"The one misconception I had about being gay was that I had to dress in baggy clothes, wear my hair a certain way, walk a certain way, talk a certain way. But that's not necessarily the case. Gay comes in all shapes and sizes, all races and religions," she said.
Including athletes, such as Zoll-Norman; or Brittney Griner, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft who now plays for the Phoenix Mercury; or Jason Collins, a 13-year NBA player; or Robbie Rogers, an accomplished professional soccer player.
"You should never be ashamed of how you feel inside or out, or who you love," she said. "I think it's amazing that [Collins and Rogers] came out. It takes so much courage to come out, especially Jason as a Black professional athlete. I think we have kind of a stigma in our community, that if you're gay you're less masculine. So I really applaud him. Throughout his NBA career, no one has questioned his masculinity, his toughness. So Jason really puts a different face to what some people see as gay. Same for Robbie Rogers, who plays soccer, one of the toughest sports to playand I'm sure no one has questioned his [masculinity.]
"The message that they're getting out there, that just because they're gay they are not any less masculine, is incredible."