Collin Martin’s public announcement that he is gay was met last Friday with thunderous cheers across social media. To close out Pride Month, and usher in Minnesota United’s Pride Night, Martin became the only publicly out gay athlete in any of men’s Big Five sports.
Yet for many in the gay community in Washington, D.C., where he played with D.C. United for four seasons, there was likely a bit of a ho-hum about the news.
“For a lot of people, this is not a big surprise,” Martin told Outsports.
Why? While Martin lived and played in D.C., he was not a stranger at Nellie’s Sports Bar, one of the community’s popular watering holes in the city.
“I was pretty discreet the first two seasons, and it was kind of weird for me to be in a gay bar,” Martin said. “I always made sure I wasn’t seen by people I didn’t want to be seen by. But eventually it was pretty normal for me.”
It was also in Washington that he started his professional coming-out process. There in the nation’s capital he came out to a couple of teammates and received positive reactions. The response from guys on the team built his confidence.
When he was traded to Minnesota before the 2017 season, he knew he wanted to give his entire team there the chance to accept him.
Having a boyfriend helped. While the two are no longer together, Martin found that bringing his New York-based then-boyfriend to team events, or just mentioning his boyfriend to teammates and people with the club, was an organic way of introducing or reinforcing the idea that he was gay.
Instead of having a “coming out” talk, he could just mention his boyfriend and be out.
“Its definitely an easier segue to bring up that your’e gay,” Martin said. “When you don’t have a significant other it might be harder. I don’t think it makes that much of a difference, but it is nice to tell people you’re dating someone.”
By the time 2018 hit, Martin was convinced that coming out publicly wasn’t just a possibility, but that it was something he should do for himself and his community.
“I thought I had done enough. I was living an open, honest life and I was respected by my teammates and in the organization. But I had some rumblings from people around dme.”
The playful bantering, mostly from gay friends, took a physical form this February when his club hosted players for a photo shoot preparing for promotional events that season. Wanting to get ahead of social-media needs, Minnesota United brought in props for players to take photos and videos to celebrate their birthdays, Star Wars night and everything else in between.
The club provided a rainbow flag so athletes could use it to promote their Pride Night later that summer on June 29.
Martin knew even then in February that he would likely want a transformative picture of himself wrapped in the rainbow flag. So he snapped some images.
“I knew down the line they’d be useful,” he said. “I always had in the back of of my head that this would be the perfect month to come out. I’m gay and I have the chance to put more meaning behind this. And the timing of the whole pride game at the end of pride month, it just felt like it was right.”
About a week before the team’s Pride Night game last Friday, Martin set the wheels in motion. He talked to a local gay confidant who had committed to helping him map out the public path out of the closet. He gave the club a heads up immediately, then confirmed his plans a couple days before he posted his coming-out tweet.
Having made up his mind, no one with the team or in his life gave him pause. They all lined up to support him.
“From there it’s either you support me or not,” he said. “There was no conversation to be had.”
The days leading up to his June 29 coming-out party at TCF Bank Stadium were in large part spent by sharing the draft of his coming-out tweet with about a dozen people looking for feedback. He knew what he wanted to say, but perfecting how he said it was important to him.
When he hit “tweet,” his team was ready, MLS was aware and Martin dove into history.
That day last Friday, Martin was present with the people who had gotten him there.
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
Every time an athlete, coach or someone else in sports comes out on Outsports, they are almost invariably shocked by the depth and breadth of the outpouring of support.
Martin was equally shocked by how his tweet and message spread worldwide in a matter of minutes.
“I’m so grateful I’ve gotten to this point,” he said. “I think I would have been very sad if I didn’t come out during my career.”
Now Martin is focused on his MLS career and beyond. While he’s talked about wanting to be on a team where he starts 25 matches per season, that hasn’t panned out. He’s currently getting his bachelor’s degree from George Washington University, which he hopes to secure by the autumn.
In the offseason you can find him in front of a TV cheering on the Syracuse men’s basketball team. While his one-year stint at a university was with Wake Forest, both of his parents went to Syracuse.
Martin also frequents museums. He loves art and is taking a trip to Europe later this year to explore Amsterdam, Paris and the works of Vincent Van Gogh.
“It’s been good for me to have stuff on the side to keep my brain going while I’m playing.”
Now the only publicly out LGBTQ man playing in any of North America’s Big Five sports leagues, Martin should have plenty of opportunities to keep himself busy this offseason.