Hours after his life-changing announcement, the only publicly gay man in the five major American sports leagues stands in front of the throng of media on his team’s Pride Night.
This scrum of reporters is so big, so important that it’s moved to whole different locker room. As the camera lights shine into his eyes and the cell phones are extended to his face, Collin Martin is remarkably calm, even though this all feels a bit surreal.
“I didn’t know it was going to be that big,” he says, and he means it. “I knew it was going to change some things in terms of just my social media account. I don’t think I was necessarily completely prepared. My phone was going crazy. I didn’t figure out how to turn off the notifications.”
Martin, a 23-year-old midfielder for Major League Soccer franchise Minnesota United, came out as gay on June 29th, the day United would celebrate the LGBTQ+ community at their Pride Night match.
“It was crazy,” Martin said. “It was overwhelming, but in a good way. I felt loved and appreciated and supported. It was a special day for me.”
Friday may have been just the start for Martin. The midfielder came out late Friday morning on Twitter. His announcement has drawn messages of praise and support from thousands across the soccer, sports, and LGBTQ+ communities. His announcement has received over 90,000 likes in a matter of hours.
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 worked with the team to coordinate his announcement for Friday, when Minnesota United hosted their annual Pride Night match. Though he had come out to teammates and coaches already, club staff were briefed a couple of days prior. Martin believes that nothing will change between him and his teammates and coaches.
“I told a few teammates in DC before I left. In Minnesota, I did not make it a concerted effort but I tried to make sure I was being completely honest and open with how I was living my life,” he explained. “The past year and a half, two years have been great in terms of that. Everyone has known and the team knew. The whole sporting staff got pulled aside two days ago and they were just like ‘yeah we know. Can we get on with our jobs now? We know Collin is gay.’ Obviously, I have to thank everyone in my life. They are important to me.”
Martin consulted his parents before coming out and was reassured by their support. “They were just probably excited that I told them. I gave them two-day notice,” he said. “They were super supportive. My mom was happy that I am being my authentic self. That it will help some people hopefully. My dad, more on the business side, he wanted to make sure I was telling the team and telling the right people that were going to support me and making sure I was doing it the right way.”
Part of the amazing response to Martin’s announcement came in the match against FC Dallas. “I had a bunch of guys on the other team come up to me today during the game and say how brave I was and just being happy for my decision,” he said.
Though Martin’s sexuality was not news to them, teammates and coaches alike were happy for the midfielder. “It’s a brave decision,” said manager Adrian Heath. “Hopefully if there’s one or two people out there thinking about it, this will give them the push to join him.”
Defender Michael Boxall wore the captain’s armband for the match. “The reception he has gotten publicly from the fans, from other teams, from other players around the league, it’s heartwarming to see,” Boxall said. “For Collin to be a role model and inspire any other young people or anyone who is struggling to be themselves … it’s a [expletive]-up thing that some people in this society can’t be … something. I think it’s great and the fans and the city, it speaks largely for the city and the support this club has and that Collin feels comfortable doing it here.”
Martin recognized the atmosphere of the Twin Cities as hugely beneficial. “My mom was worried when I first got traded here from DC,” he recalled. “She was like, ‘Oh, I hope those Midwest peeps are as friendly as the DC people,’ and I said I am sure they will be. To see the support and the amount of community in Minneapolis and the Twin Cities has honestly been great.”
Other teammates also voiced their support for Martin. “It’s never been an issue once in this locker room and I don’t think it ever will be,” said goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth. “This is a good group of guys and ... I think it speaks volumes about the club and the players in this locker room.”
“I can’t even imagine the courage it would take to do something like that,” remarked defender and Minnesota-native Brent Kallman. “I think everybody is just really proud of him and man, if that just helps one person –– especially a younger person that’s coming up and having a rough time, I’m sure it will, it’s going to help a lot of people I bet –– that’s so cool. So, yeah. We’re all really proud of him.”
Though many fans expected Martin to appear in the match, either as a substitute or a starter, neither came to be. He was available as a sub but not one of the three chosen by Heath. “Maybe he thought I had a lot going on today,” said Martin. “Obviously, I want to play, but most importantly I just wanted us to win.”
The road doesn’t stop here for Collin Martin—in fact, it’s just beginning. He’ll have plenty of interviews to fill his time in the upcoming days, but there are bigger things he’d like to see. “I think we still have some improvement to make,” he pointed out. “It is still kind of crazy to think I am the only out gay man in the five major league sports in America. There are more of us out there. I think that was what Robbie Rogers was alluding to earlier in the month. He was like, ‘Where are you guys at?’ It has been four years since Michael Sam so I think it is time and more so than professionally — just other people in general.”
Even so, Martin is overjoyed with the reception he’s received. “I have been reading some negative experiences during Pride Month from guys who have just recently come out. I wanted to share my positive experience. This team is awesome. This Pride Night is awesome. My teammates have supported me and loved me for the past year and a half. That is what is important and people need to hear that.”
Check out our Pride Month exclusives: how the club has embraced Pride and how United players, like Martin and teammate Eric Miller, are supporting organizations such as Athlete Ally and Playing for Pride.