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Coming out from behind the camera

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Sports cameraman Scott Winer has worked the biggest sports in America. He opens up about being gay, his dream job in the pros and years of dealing with sexual assault.

The roof is open at Marlins Park. It's the bottom of the eighth, no outs. The visiting New York Mets lead the Miami Marlins, 3-0.

Daisuke Matsuzaka has walked his first two batters of the inning when Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton walks to the plate. Stanton leads the league in home runs, hit two homers the night before, and now represents the tying run.

These are the kinds of moments I love. And I get a front row seat.

I'm next to the first base dugout, running one of seven cameras for the Mets' TV broadcast. Between telecasts to New York and Miami, there are 16 local cameramen working the game. I'm the rookie on this team of veterans - the youngest by more than 15 years - and the only one who's gay.

Everyone knows it, and nobody cares. Tonight, like every night, it doesn't matter. I'm not the gay guy at low first. There's no mark by my name. I'm Camera 5, responsible for right-handed batters, left-handed pitchers and lead runners.

I follow the right-handed Stanton as he enters the batter's box. The director calls out, "Ready 5...take 5!" My red tally light illuminates. When he cuts to another camera, the light goes out.

Next, I pick up Christian Yelich, the lead runner on second base. I stay with him, and five pitches later it's a full count. The pressure is on.

Instructions quickly follow: "2, second. 6, first." I go back to Stanton. A sequence of shots sets up the situation-a close up of the pitcher, the runner on second, the runner on first, then a close up of the batter. I slowly push in until Stanton's face fills the frame. I lose my tally and quickly return to Yelich on second.

Next pitch, Stanton rips a line drive to centerfield. I follow Yelich rounding third and heading home. He crosses the plate, then I pick up the next runner. After two more batters, the Marlins have evened the score. Matsuzaka's night is over. Our night continues.

The job is as exhilarating as it is intense. But for me it can be equally surreal. I'm often left wondering, "How did I ever get here?"

Sports have always been part of my life. I was a fan as a kid and played growing up. But some people are born athletes, and I wasn't one of them. On the other hand, plenty of talented athletes never make it to the pros; Somehow I did.

I think about the road I've taken, the many setbacks and struggles: sexual abuse when I was 5, battling depression since high school, coming out at 17 and again at 23, two suicide attempts, several failed relationships and a seemingly endless supply of poor judgment.

My story could have easily had a different outcome.

For years I tried to figure things out on my own, to sort out who I was and what I felt. The results were staggering at best. But I was stubborn, and I was driven. I knew I wanted to work in television before I knew I was gay. It gave me a reason to fight. Without it, I don't know where I would be.

I had a destination in mind. But I wasn't sure I'd ever get there. Anxiety and insecurity ruled my life. What I lacked in confidence I made up for in arrogance. At times I was so afraid that I would do or say something wrong, it felt like I couldn't do anything right. It had been a recurring problem for many years, and there was only one way to address it. I had to confront the past, starting from the beginning.

During the summer of 1990, I was sexually abused by a teenage girl. It didn't seem like a big deal then, so I never told anyone about it. As I got older, it weighed on me more, but the memory had become so faint I sometimes questioned whether it had happened at all.

I remember it in pieces. A woman and her teenage daughter spent the night at my house, babysitting my brother and I for a few days while our parents were out of town. One night, after everyone else had gone to bed, the girl entered my bedroom and led me to the floor. I recall few other details before shutting my eyes. The rest has since faded.

My parents returned home a few days later, and I never saw her again.

Even now, what little I can remember seems almost too insignificant to have affected me. It could have been so much worse. In many ways, I was lucky. It happened only once, and it wasn't with someone I ever encountered again. But I've felt the impact. I know it's real.

I don't need to be able to connect every dot to move forward. Sure, I've thought about how it's affected me. But I'll never know exactly how much, and I'm okay with that. I've stopped looking for someone to blame for every struggle I've had and every mistake I've made.

I'm a survivor, not a victim. Being abused is only one part of who I am. It didn't single-handedly create my depression. And it didn't turn me gay.

My attraction to other guys didn't actually surface until middle school. But it felt somehow excusable at the time. So, like a typical 12 year old, I procrastinated - for four years.

I needed a distraction in the meantime and found one in television. Initially, I was drawn to music variety shows-late night, award shows, concerts, etc.-but if I wanted support for more ambitious projects, I needed something with broader appeal. So, I turned back to sports.

Previously, I had tried some on-camera work and announcing, but I didn't like the vulnerability and anxiety that went with it. My personality was more "look at this" than "look at me." Production seemed like a better fit. I could seek cover behind a camera. In front, there was nowhere to hide.

I began gathering camera notes from sporting events, mostly football games. That became my textbook. The more I studied it, the more eager I was to give it a try. Multi-camera coverage was my goal, but it was logistically unrealistic. A single-camera documentary, however, was doable.

After some persuading, I convinced the varsity football coaches to let me shoot and produce a documentary about the team for the remainder of the season. I traveled on the team bus, had free reign of the sidelines and had my own locker. It was almost like I was part of the team.

When it was done, the response was overwhelmingly positive, and I was ready for a new project. I pitched a similar idea to the swimming and diving coach. It was an easy sell. The team was one of the best in the state and welcomed the attention.

In recognition of my work, the swimming coach allowed me to letter in swimming and diving. The following football season, the head coach similarly agreed that, if I put in the same time commitment as the players-from spring practice through the end of the season-I could letter in football.

So, without playing a down or swimming a lap, I became a two-sport varsity letterman, the first the school had ever awarded for production and camerawork.

The letters meant a lot to me. Because I worked alone on each of the documentaries, they were the closest I would ever get to being on a team in high school. It was then I realized, no matter how well received, the end result would always seem hollow. I wanted to be part of something.

I knew what it felt like to be isolated. That was part of my daily life. I wanted television to be different. From then on, I stopped doing solo projects, and I have avoided them ever since.

That football season I was still very much in the closet. Anything I had ever done with another person was on my own terms and always with someone just as intent on secrecy as I was. It had allowed me to explore my sexuality without it becoming known to others.

That soon changed after an unexpected encounter with another student. He was already out and saw no need for discretion.

Unbeknownst to me, he had told one of the school's few gay teachers and urged me to go to talk to him. I had more than a few reservations. But I went and was suddenly confronted with many of the questions that I was still struggling to answer.

Looking back, I wasn't ready to come out. I needed more time. But I was desperate to escape the burden and yearned for a sense of belonging.

So, I came out to a few people at school and later to my family, always in a very roundabout way. I could never bring myself to say, "I'm gay." It still feels awkward. Back then it was impossible. Everyone had been mostly accepting until I started coming out to a couple of the football players. After that, word began to spread.

The already tenuous relationships with my peers quickly crumbled. Among the football players especially, there was a prevailing sense of betrayal and deceit. I had confirmed my status as an outsider. Things at school were never the same. I felt misunderstood and insignificant. Administrators finally intervened. Unaware that I'd already come out, they questioned me in front of my parents until I admitted being gay.

With it on record, they restricted my access to athletic facilities and sporting events, urging me to be involved in theater instead. Amid suspicions that I'd been sexually active on campus, I was under a microscope. An argument with a teacher over a grade was the last straw.

I was suspended for the remainder of the school year, nearly six weeks. The administration reluctantly reinstated me for my senior year. But I lasted only a month. I hadn't moved on.

It wasn't until my sophomore year of college that I began to question whether I'd been right to come out in the first place. There were still far too many questions unanswered. I didn't know if I'd come out because of what I felt or what someone else had suggested. I wondered if I had simply avoided relationships with girls because my abuser had been female.

By then, I was out to everyone in my family. But I'd always kept the abuse to myself. If I was ever going to break the cycle and seek meaningful help, I had to speak up. So, I called my mother on the phone, and for the first time-15 years after the fact-I told her that I'd been abused.

After that critical first step, I needed a fresh start. I transferred to The University of Kansas in Lawrence, my fourth school in four years.

With the change of scenery came my first girlfriend since elementary school. She knew I'd been with guys and seemed to be okay with it. It didn't work out, obviously. The fact that I was dating a girl at all had surprised some and relieved others. But, for me, it only confirmed what deep down I had already known. My interest in guys wasn't going away.

Years removed from high school, I was back to the same conclusion, only this time I'd reached it on my own. Still, I felt embarrassed that I hadn't been more certain in the first place.

I gradually came out to friends and again to family. But I had more pressing concerns, like what my future would hold.

I'd had a plan, but a terrible job market and a new relationship changed everything. By the time I graduated, I had added a boyfriend and subtracted a place to live. I spent several months couch surfing and living out of various motel rooms when an opportunity arose. A new regional network needed a camera operator for college football. It was one game, but it was a start.

Eventually, I'd saved up enough money to get an apartment. But work was scarce, and I needed a project. For years, I'd struggled with my weight. Both of my grandfathers had died of heart failure-one at 76, the other at 80. A lack of free time was no longer an excuse. I needed to do something about it.

I began to go on daily walks, usually twice a day and anywhere from three to seven miles long. Now on food stamps, I had no choice but to change the way I ate. I lost 30 pounds that summer and over 70 pounds to date. Things were looking up.

A part-time job opened up at a TV station in Lawrence. And I landed a second job a few months later at a station in Kansas City. Working mornings at one, nights at the other and freelancing on weekends, there was little time left.

It didn't take me long to see it was unsustainable, as was the three-year relationship with my boyfriend. We broke up, and I moved to KC. It was an important step forward, but I still wasn't where I needed or wanted to be.

Then, I lost my job.

Single and unemployed, my options were suddenly wide open. I finally had the freedom to keep chasing my dream no matter where I had to go. I narrowed my options to two places, ultimately choosing South Florida.

It's easily one of the best decisions I've ever made.

When I first moved I kept to myself and didn't talk much. I simply wasn't sure how open I was ready to be. The shift started when one person told me about having a gay relative. He encouraged me to speak up, stop overthinking and just be myself.

There was a bit of nagging paranoia. I felt at ease in small groups around the people I'd worked with the most. But I still wasn't sure how to act around everyone else. I told one of the guys, "I don't know who knows." He stopped, looked me in the eye and said, "Scott, everyone knows."

It was the little bit I needed to hear.

I suddenly had permission to stop pretending. As long as I did my job, wasn't lazy and didn't screw up, it seemed like everything was going to work out. So far, it has.

The work itself is still physically and mentally exhausting. Between running cable, building cameras, arranging lights and setting up monitors, it's a workout before we ever hit the air. Once a game starts, it's several hours of sensory overload.

But there's nothing I'd rather do and no group I'd rather do it with.

For as difficult as it was for me to come out in high school and college, here it simply hasn't been an issue. I've stopped acting like it's a big deal, and others have done the same.

As a result, I've unexpectedly found myself in a position to educate others. Even in South Florida, having an openly gay co-worker is new for a lot of people. Being out to colleagues is still new for me. But we're all adults, and we're all professionals. I'm learning to be myself and finally feel like I'm part of a team. That's all I ever really wanted.

There are people I could be mad at, but I'm not. There are times I could have given up, but I didn't. My struggles aren't even that unique. I'm not the only male who's been sexually abused by a female. I'm not the only openly gay non-athlete working in sports. And I'm certainly not the only person who's ever battled depression.

Those are experiences, not excuses.

From shooting my first high school basketball game in sixth grade to working my first NBA playoff game last summer, there have been countless ups and downs along the way.

But I'm still doing what I love, surrounded by people who push me every day to be better than I am.

I truly am living my dream. And it doesn't get much better than that.

You can follow Scott Winer on Twitter @littlescottie and on Instagram @littlescottie. His Web site is scottwiner.tv, where you can see his work with the NFL, NBA and others.

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