Professional soccer player Collin Martin is openly gay and supported. His team, the San Diego Loyal, forfeited a game last season after an opposing player had called him a gay slur. The forfeit cost them a playoff spot. It was a resounding display of solidarity.
With that episode in mind, the lack of elite gay male athletes is even more baffling. We have one recent high-profile example of an openly gay player being ridiculed, and his team completely backing him. Martin has even said himself there’s never been a better time to come out.
So as we enter 2021, why is he still the only one?
In a new interview with Sky Sports, Martin says it’s “just not right” he’s the only openly gay male pro soccer player. There are scores of openly LGBTQ elite female athletes — from Megan Rapinoe to Natasha Cloud. The men are way behind.
In Martin’s view, it starts with attitudes at the youth level.
“In America, there are tons of females that are out, playing at the professional level,” he said. “I think that is because they feel comfortable enough to continue to play the sport when they are young, and they feel supported by their teammates. They feel supported by their coaches and I feel like on the men’s side, that is just not the case.”
Martin went on to extol his head coach, soccer legend Landon Donovan, for his unabashed support. Immediately after the incident, Donovan approached the opposing head coach, Rick Schantz, and stood up for Martin.
He didn’t let Schantz get away with his “boys will be boys” stance. (Schantz now says he regrets his actions that night, telling our Cyd Zeigler he wants to make LGBTQ inclusion one of his top priorities.)
“The special thing about Landon as a coach is he sees things differently and he understands the importance of a manager seeing a player for who they are, and the importance of that individual outside of the sport as well,” Martin said.
The San Diego Loyal walked off the field in protest Wednesday night, saying a Phoenix Rising player used an anti-gay slur directed at openly-gay midfielder Collin Martin.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 1, 2020
Manager Landon Donovan discussed the incident with the referee and Phoenix head coach Rick Schantz. pic.twitter.com/WlOYauQhgV
Martin says he wishes all coaches at the youth level took on a holistic approach to their players. It’s about making them feel comfortable as people, so they can perform to their fullest potential.
We’ve all lived through it: separating your private life and professional life is not sustainable long-term.
“But the sad reality is that in your private life, if you are not completely yourself and if you are not able to express yourself or you do not feel accepted, that is going to seep into your professional life,” Martin said.
Change is coming in the male sports world. Last year, we saw an abundance of young gay hockey players come out, many of whom intend to stay involved with the sport after playing. Former college hockey player Stephen Finkle is already coaching USA hockey from ages 8 to 18 at his local rink.
The more openly LGBTQ authority figures there are in youth sports, the more normalized being gay and athletic becomes. If recent history is an indication, we will once again run a plethora of coming-out stories this year.
Each one shows there are gay male athletes out there, performing to their fullest potential. They are thriving as athletes and human beings. The two concepts go hand-in-hand.
“If he (a gay soccer player) can be himself and be comfortable with himself and feel comfortable in his own home, with his own family, and then at the club in the locker room, he is going to be able to perform better and be able to express himself on the field,” Martin said. “It is no different to anyone else’s private life.”