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Ohio State gay gymnast picked by teammates to be senior captain

Jake Martin has become leader for equality on his team. Plus, LGBT sports roundup

Jake Martin
Ohio State Athletics

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jake Martin didn’t vote for himself when the Ohio State men’s gymnastics team elected captains at the start of the school year.

Martin, the team’s only fifth-year senior, owns the most experience on the squad but wanted to let his teammates to decide if he’d be a captain.

“If it comes down to one vote because of me, I don’t want it,” said Martin, who turned 23 years old in September.

When the coach tallied the votes, Martin joined Sean Melton and Andrew Rickly as the Buckeyes’ captains this season. Martin said it felt “reassuring that people actually wanted me to do it.”

For Martin to nominate himself for captain took coaxing from teammates, but he has embraced the role. As captain, he now works to create a feeling of equality. He doesn’t let tasks be delegated to freshman and instead contributes to set an example.

“I definitely don’t tolerate any kind of class-ism at all,” Martin said.

In previous years, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Martin did not want to be captain. He didn’t need an additional differentiation. As a tall, black man, Martin is already unique on the Ohio State team [the team’s average height is 5-7; 5-10 is tall for a gymnast], and since his sophomore year, he’s been out as gay on the team.

Martin is believed to be the only publicly out college gymnast currently competing, and maybe this year, like his sophomore year, it will pay off to embrace his individuality.

Telling his Ohio State teammates he’s gay coincided with Martin’s best year of college gymnastics. As a sophomore, Martin won the 2014 Big Ten Conference title in vault, and he earned all-American honors at the 2014 NCAA Championships on high bar (second place) and in all-around (fifth place).

So far, Martin’s sophomore season is the only year he competed in the Big Ten or NCAA Championships, with injuries or illness derailing his 2013, 2015 and 2016 seasons. He suffered his latest injury Jan. 30, 2016, when he tore the Achilles tendon in his right leg during a floor routine.

“I heard a loud pop and then I saw Jake start to grab his leg. He was obviously in a lot of pain,” said Melton, a fourth-year junior who was also Martin’s teammate in high school. “I thought it was his Achilles. At the same time, I was hoping it really wasn’t, because that’s a tough injury to have.”

Martin worked diligently to rehabilitate his injury the last 11 months. He displayed his progress during the Ohio State intrasquad scrimmage Dec. 10, when he won high bar and finished second on rings.

He stayed in Columbus this summer to focus on rehabilitation instead of returning to his hometown of Oviedo, Florida — a suburb of Orlando — and Martin said that may have saved his life. Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, where 49 people were massacred in June, was the first gay bar Martin ever went to, and he used to return when visiting his parents.

“If I had gone home, that’s the first place I probably would have gone with my friends,” said Martin, who feels relieved none of his friends were at Pulse during the early hours of June 12.

Jake Martin with teammate Sean Melton

A week later, Martin showed his resolve the best he could. He attended Columbus’ Pride Festival, despite having only recently returned to walking without assistance but still in a boot to protect his Achilles.

“The festival and the parade and everything. That is a big part of the solidarity,” Martin said. “The city was flooded with people from all across the state, so it was good to see.”

Two years earlier, Martin attended a pride festival for the first time when he brought half a dozen teammates to the 2014 Columbus festival.

“He was smiling ear to ear. I think we all were. We were all in a positive place with a lot of positive energy,” said Melton, who went to support Martin and enjoyed Pride more than he expected. “It really did have a huge effect on all of us. … It really is one of my best memories here at Ohio State.”

Martin said the arrival of Melton’s class changed the Ohio State team dynamic. The outgoing seniors talked derogatorily about the LGBT community and non-black teammates casually used the N-word, according to Martin. He tried to address their use of the N-word, which Martin said was “not racially charged.” But being a freshman, Martin didn’t feel comfortable coming out, so the LGBT slurs continued.

“When Jake came to school, he might not realize it, but him and another freshman that came in his year, they were more so saviors of our team and pioneers,” said Brandän Jones, who was two years ahead of Martin at Ohio State and the only other black gymnast on the team Martin’s freshman year. “First, they were themselves as people, and second, the way they carried themselves in gymnastics made a difference in how our team shifted and allowed them to achieve great things.”

Martin was part of Ohio State head coach Rustam Sharipov’s first recruiting class, and Martin credits Sharipov with embracing diversity.

“The atmosphere of the gym has changed dramatically, especially with the acceptance of queer people,” Martin said.

Former Stanford gymnast Josh Dixon became friends with Martin while training together at the Colorado Spring U.S. Olympic Training Center in 2012, and Dixon said Martin deserves credit for being a leader for equality at Ohio State before he became captain.

“I knew the coaching staff and gymnasts prior to [Martin arriving at Ohio State],” said Dixon, who is black and gay. “He single-handedly brought that change and culture to the Ohio State program.”

Martin’s final season at Ohio State begins Jan. 14 at the Windy City Invitational in Chicago.

Names in bold are people that have announced publicly they identify as LGBT.

Division I

Nicholle Aston (senior, Cornell women’s basketball) helped the Big Red (8-4 overall) to a 3-1 record the last three weeks. Her best game came in Sunday’s 54-51 win against Binghamton with Aston providing nine points, six rebounds, four assists, one blocked shot, and one steal — seven of her points came in the fourth quarter.

Max Showalter (sophomore, Purdue men’s diving) finished second in mixed synchronized platform and third in men’s synchronized platform at the USA Diving Winter National Championships on Dec. 15-21. He competed with Amy Cozad in the mixed competition and Zachary Cooper in the men’s competition. He also took 11th in individual platform diving.

Chris Burns (assistant coach, Bryant men’s basketball) saw the Bulldogs (3-11 overall) go 0-3 the last three weeks. The closest game was an 80-77 overtime loss to St. Francis-Brooklyn on Dec. 29.

Randy Lane (assistant coach, UCLA women’s gymnastics) is scheduled to have his team’s Jan. 15 meet against Oklahoma broadcast on FSN at 5 p.m. ET.

Stephanie White (head coach, Vanderbilt women’s basketball) saw her team lose three straight to No. 8 Louisville, Memphis and Texas A&M after the Commodores (10-4 overall) extended their nine-game win streak with an 89-57 win against Tennessee Tech on Dec. 18. Vanderbilt’s Jan. 5 game (9 p.m. ET) and Jan. 8 game (noon ET) are scheduled to be broadcast on the SEC Network.

Division II

Austin Olivares (senior, Lindenwood men’s swimming) competed in seven events at the Delta State Christmas Invitational on Dec. 10-12. He took fifth in the 500-yard freestyle (4:34.67), which earned a B cut for the NCAA championships, and helped the 800 freestyle relay finish second and earn a B cut, too. He also finished third in the 200 freestyle (1:40.78) and fourth in the 200 butterfly (1:53.86)

Division III

Julie Shaw (head coach, La Verne women’s basketball) experienced an 0-3 record the last three weeks with her Leopards team (0-10 overall).

Community College

Maria Berrum (sophomore, Oakton women’s basketball) experienced an 0-3 stretch the last three weeks with her team. A box score was available for only one game, and Berrum was not listed in that box score.

Taylor Emery (sophomore, Gulf Coast State women’s basketball) helped the Commodores (17-0 overall) to a 5-0 record the last three weeks. Emery erupted for 25 points, six rebounds, five steals, and four assists in a 90-70 win against Harford Community College on Dec. 17.

Erik Hall can be reached via email at hallerik7@gmail.com or on Twitter @HallErik or on Facebook. If you are an out LGBT athlete or coach and want your accomplishments recognized, please email Erik.

Jake Martin can be reached on Twitter @Jaghyke, Instagram @Jaghyke, or Facebook.