Collin Martin, a midfielder for Minnesota United of Major League Soccer, stands alone. Of the more than 3,000 men playing in one of the five major American sports leagues, Martin is the only one who is openly gay.

“I’m so grateful I’ve gotten to this point,” Martin told Outsports after he came out in June. “I think I would have been very sad if I didn’t come out during my career.”

Since coming out, Martin has carried the banner for LGBT athletes, regularly posting on social media about causes that are important to him. For being brave enough to come out and be himself as a pro athlete, Martin is Outsports Male Hero of the Year.

Despite growing gay acceptance in sports, it still takes courage for a man to come out in the pros. In history, there has been one openly gay NBA player who appeared in a game (Jason Collins); one other MLS player (Robbie Rogers) and one NFL player (Michael Sam, who played in the preseason). There has never been an out active Major League Baseball or National Hockey League player.

Martin has not really been closeted as a pro, being out to some teammates. “For a lot of people, this is not a big surprise,” he said. But until he posted this on Instagram on the day of United’s Pride night, Martin was not publicly out:

Martin’s teammate and United fans have embraced him after his coming out. He thanked teammates who came to a Minneapolis men’s store this fall where he was promoting products as a part of a fund-raiser. “Having a bunch of my teammates and friends there was incredible. It was a humbling night and one I won’t forget,” he wrote.

Let’s hope that Martin continues to thrive and that he will not be alone as an out man in pro sports much longer.

Runners-up for the award are Olympic freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy for the same-sex kiss heard around the world, and the seven out college football players — Scott Frantz, My-King Johnson, Bradley Kim, Jake Bain, Xavier Colvin, Jacob Van Ittersum and Wyatt Pertuset — for helping to shatter a myth about gay and bi men playing our most macho of sports.

Previous Outsports Male Hero Of The Year winners:
2017: Mack Beggs and Harrison Browne
2016: Amini Fonua
2015: Billy Bean
2014: Conner Mertens

Outsports has divided year-end Athlete and Hero awards to highlight accomplishments of people across genders. We understand that not everyone fits into the binary gender world currently established in sports, and we will honor that with additional awards when appropriate.