Earlier this month, as I studied for my college semester finals at 3 a.m., I received this text from my Wilson College soccer teammate Kosta Zois, who is from Australia:
"Hey Michael, I know this is random and late, and I apologize if this upsets you in anyway. It's nothing bad haha. It's good.
"But as you followed me back on Instagram I clicked on your profile. Clicked the link, and I have just spent the last hour and a half reading the articles. And watching your YouTube videos about how you openly came out and how you did it. And damn man, I haven't cried like that since my sister passed away 5 and a half years ago. I mean I knew you were gay before we even met and was completely fine with it. But I never knew how much you went through to get where you are today.
"I just want to say that your an inspiration to everyone and to me, your story touched me and gives me hope for many things in my life and it is amazing how something like that can give one hope. if you don't mind I would like to share the videos and the article on my Facebook and Instagram?? to show my family and friends as well as social media about your story. Your story has touched so many people around the country. I want it to be noticed around that world (or at least Australia).
"I envy you for what you have achieved. You are a true inspiration my friend."
I was blown away. I responded quickly by texting, "THIS ALREADY MADE MY DAY PERFECT AND I JUST WOKE UP." I am still in shock that I could bring tears to a teammate's face by just telling the story of my life.
One year ago, my life as changed completely. I spilled my heart into an article on Outsports with the help of Jim Buzinski. Just four months earlier I had written Jim an email because I liked Outsports and wanted to talk to another gay person about my fears of being gay in sports. I had no idea it would result in a regular email exchange that would give me the courage to finally come out publicly. This was not easy for someone in West Virginia.
The story was published Dec. 16, 2014, and nothing could have prepared me for the response. My story went live at 8:34 a.m., and I went through the entire school day watching it go viral, without my high school teammates or classmates knowing. Even my parents were in the dark. This is how I came out to my entire family as I didn't tell them I was publishing the article.
My brother was in the Navy recruiter's office and saw it as one of his friends shared it. He told me he immediately called my mother and told her. They didn't tell me they saw it until I got home that evening. They were all shocked about how quickly it was getting popular. I pretty much went through every emotion you can think of as the essay exploded online.
It was shared 72,000 times on Faceboook, which stunned me. It was picked up by Seventeen Magazine, the Huffington Post, the London Daily Mail and MTV, and I was later interviewed for articles in Time Magazine, ESPN.com and Fast Company. Jim told me it wound up being the most-read article on Outsports last year.
I didn't write it to get Facebook shares and had no idea if anyone would read it. I wrote it to share my story and show that it was possible to be openly gay and play sports. Many closeted kids have emailed me and Instagramed me about coming out, saying that I am an inspiration. I don't see myself as an inspiration, I am just doing what is right. I know that some of these people, including some closeted Division 1 athletes, are slowly coming out and it means the world to me that they call me their mentor. My parents didn't realize how much I can impact someone's life. They are proud of me now. They are glad my college team accepts me and are 100% cool with everything. I am very proud of this. I changed their minds for the better.
Over the summer, I was talking to a lot of college coaches to play for their soccer team. I was struggling to decide whether I actually was going to play in college. I know my family really wanted me to and ultimately they helped me make that decision. I thought I would let a lot of LGBT people down if I didn't play college soccer.
One coach, Caleb Davis of Wilson College, stood out to me while recruiting me as a goalkeeper. He acted like a father to me while communicating with me. He was persistent with communicating and cared about my decision-making process. I finally committed to Wilson College, a small liberal arts college in rural Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. I am now the starting goalie as a freshman on the soccer team and a starter on the men's volleyball team as well.
What is cool is that this is the first time Wilson had men's soccer and I was playing from Day 1 as an openly gay player. I had a great first year, playing every single second this season and racking up 96 saves in 15 games played. I felt like I gave 110% during every game I played.
Michael Martin (00) with his Wilson College teammates.
I will admit that I was nervous about having to come out to my new college teammates. Fortunately, most of the team knew without me having to give a speech, thanks to social media. Some of the guys found out via my Instagram account but never said anything to me.
Then one night, we were hanging out in a teammate's dorm and someone said, "that's gay." My teammate stood up and said, "Hey, man, don't say that. Mike's gay." They really didn't care but, were very curious. They always asked me about relationships, lifestyle and what being gay really meant. They say all the time that they are proud to have a gay teammate. My favorite moment is when they said, "What other team has a bad-ass keeper who is gay?!"
My teammates are like brothers on and off the field. We break every huddle by saying "Family." We mean it when we say it and we take it to heart. I love them and they love me. One game this season a forward for the other team hit me late. My teammates got right in his face saying, "Back off my keeper, man." They have my back no matter what.
My coach found out that I was gay by reading my coming out story and was supportive. "It doesn't matter to me," he said.
When I asked him about it he texted: "I don't see people as straight, gay, black or white. I see the person inside. That's all I care about. I thought you were extremely brave for being public and open about it, so I knew that if you could handle doing something like that you could handle the pressure of college and college athletics with ease. I also thought that coming out publicly in a state like W.V. was very brave, too, just because of the stereotypes associated with W.V. You are inspiring for others because they can look at you as an inspiration that they can play sports in college regardless of their sexual orientation."
Off the field, I am a part of my college's student athlete-advisory committee, so I have a voice within the athletic department. I am also a part of a subcommittee called SAM's, which represents diversity on campus. We are attempting to make a You Can Play Project video for Wilson's athletics.
I want to really thank Jim Buzinski for everything, as well as being my mentor and friend. I want to also thank Robbie Rogers for playing professionally as an openly gay man in my favorite sport. He changed my mind about coming out.
It has been a wonderful year, far more fulfilling than I ever could have dreamed. Before coming out I was very timid of everything because my secret. After coming out, I am not afraid of anything. I am proud to be out as a gay athlete.
(Michael Martin, 19, is a freshman at Wilson College in Pennsylvania and a member of the soccer and volleyball teams. He can be reached via email (email@example.com) and @wvnatureboy on Instagram. @martinofcompany on Twitter.)