When Collin Martin left the closet, he brought everyone on his team with him.
“I had a kid message me that day that I came out that he came out to his parents at the game that night after seeing my tweet,” remembers Martin, the 23-year-old midfielder for Minnesota United. Last month he became the only openly gay professional athlete, not just in soccer, but in any of the big five American sports leagues.
“For a couple years I thought that I could still be my authentic self and still be a gay man, but also just keep that private," he tells The Advocate. “But I think that the sad reality of it is, that we still need representation in sports, in terms of being gay or lesbian or bisexual or trans.”
“For me, it’s extremely difficult to even imagine being out in college. I didn’t fear that I’d be viewed as less masculine or less of an athlete, but I feared that people would more so just focus on my sexuality more than my playing on the field.”
Although Martin knew he was gay since he was in elementary school, he only started to truly accept himself at 18, when he started coming out to his closest friends. Then came his four siblings, parents, and team. At the time, he was playing for the Richmond Kickers. But a trade amounted to a fresh start.
“When I got traded to Minnesota, I made a pretty concerted effort to just be completely open with my teammates and let them know I was gay," he says.
Tonight my team, @MNUFC , is having their Pride night. It's an important night for me — I'll be announcing that I am an openly gay player in Major League Soccer. #soccerforall pic.twitter.com/cOJQXfrBiv
— Collin Martin (@martcw12) June 29, 2018
Martin knows he’s not alone. “I’m the only out gay male in the five major league sports, and clearly I feel like there are more people out there,” he asserts, assuming players stay closeted in fear it would hurt their careers. But he offers what he’s learned in the past month: “It would be really powerful if you could control your own narrative, and if you could try to be as open as you can from the start.”
The Winter 2018 Olympics was a masterclass on what kind of narrative was in store for Martin as an out athlete. Thinking back to ice skater Adam Rippon and skier Gus Kenworthy, the soccer star says “that was something that emboldened me and pushed me over the edge to come out.”
“I personally love watching Adam Rippon skate, and what he was doing was extremely athletic and impressive, and it was just amazing to watch, really,” says Martin, “And just on top of that, to see the fact that he was gay, and that people were just really – not only supportive, but just really passionate about the fact that he was gay, I think that that’s definitely rubbed off on me.”
Watching Americans “not only supporting the fact that they were openly gay, but supporting them for the amazing athletes that they are,” and how unapologetic the Olympians were about their values was the first step to finding his own bravery. Now he’s working with Athlete Ally and the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, where he spoke on a panel at an event where over 100 student-athletes from the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Southern California convened to foster activism.
— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) April 10, 2017
“There are kids out there that still are questioning themselves and questioning their spot in sports just based on their sexuality,” Martin says. “We need to have a better culture in place for our young kids, and if that can come from coaches and better education in terms of how they’re creating a healthy environment for their teams at a young age.”
The #MeToo movement has certainly left its mark on the world of professional sports, and Martin believes that it’s paved a way to address homophobia.
“They’re trying to work on coaches to have training in sexual misconduct, and reeducating coaches on what’s appropriate with your students, and with your players,” Martin says. “I think also, we can have education on homophobia in sports, and understanding that certain language is pervasive to certain athletes on their teams.”
His advice to coaches? “It can’t be okay to allow certain language in and among the team while you’re in charge of the team."
Martin remembers well how former teammates would call things “gay” in a derogatory manner and even throw around the slur fagg*t. Even though he knows they weren’t directly targeting him, he was caught in the crossfire of a culture that does not welcome LGBTQ players.
Now he wants the world to know that there's hope for queer athletes: “I’ve never seen myself as an advocate, but if it’s as simple as trying to be my authentic self and talking about things that I care about and supporting events and telling my story. Sign me up.”