American men’s pro sports again have an openly gay athlete.
Collin Martin, a midfielder with Minnesota United, has come out publicly as gay in celebration of his club’s Pride Night later today. In doing so, Martin has shone a very bright light on the reality of acceptance in men’s pro sports.
In the coming days and week’s we’ll get to know this young man better. We’ll get to know him in a way he’s never let the public — fans and the media — see him.
Right now, what stands out about his statement, along with the beautiful photograph of him literally wrapping himself in a rainbow flag for Pride month, is what it says about the state of sports today and the courage of one man to step into the light.
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’s coming out will both change the sports world and shine a light on just how far we’ve come.
His age and place in his career are huge parts of the conversation. This isn’t a retired athlete, or someone at the end of his career. Like Rogers, and the NFL’s Michael Sam, Martin has potentially years of playing days left ahead of him. He started seven matches for the United last season and three so far this year.
The young man’s courage is apparent, but just as newsworthy is his unwavering confidence in his club, teammates, coaches, fans and the league to absorb this news, celebrate it, and quickly move on.
“I have received only kindness and acceptance from everyone in Major League Soccer,” Martin said in a statement, “and that has made the decision to come out publicly that much easier.”
He went on to thank his teammates for their support, and to encourage other professional athletes to see what he has found: Pro sports teams and leagues across America are ready to accept gay athletes.
This part of his story, focusing on the broad acceptance in sports today, may be the most lasting part of his announcement.
While many continue to falsely paint the sports world as unwelcoming to LGBTQ people, and in particular gay men, who come out, we know that acceptance across leagues and locker rooms is widespread.
Martin’s coming out, and his very clear statement of league-wide support, shines a very bright light on that.
While soccer around the world (and in patches here in the United States) deals with outward homophobia, particularly from fans, the sport has also given rise to a surprising number of trailblazers. Justin Fashanu stunned the sport when he came out publicly in 1990. Robbie Rogers was the first out man to play in one of America’s Big Five sports in 2013, after the LA Galaxy had traded the league’s leading scorer to get him. Others like Anton Hysen and Ryan Atkin have continued the conversation in men’s professional soccer.
Now Martin adds another chapter to the sport’s legacy in advancing the conversation of acceptance in men’s pro sports.
With Martin’s announcement, now two of the three men to publicly come out while on a regular-season roster in North America have been in Major League Soccer. The league is clearly doing something right in conveying to its clubs and players that the front office offers unwavering support to athletes who will come out. This is to the credit of people across the league.
Every time an athlete comes out, people ask if “the dam has broken,” and if we’ll now see a flood of athletes come out. No, we won’t. Coming out is a personal decision, and no one moment will suddenly open the flood gates for gay athletes to come out.
Yet Martin’s courage will inspire others, whether they are in high school or pro sports. His statement of support from across the sport will open people’s eyes. It’s no longer a question of “if” more gay athletes will come out, but “when.”
Either way, we’re again at a place where no one can say it’s impossible to be out and gay in men’s pro sports. We have Martin to thank for that.