Collin Martin is the only openly gay male player in U.S. soccer, and he’s working to make the game more inclusive for future LGBTQ+ players.
Collin Martin is U.S. soccer’s only openly gay male player, and he’s working to make the game more inclusive for future LGBTQ+ players. His story is one of perseverance in a sport that has historically been hostile to those who are different from the norm.
Collin Martin’s colleagues from the San Diego Loyal were furious. Landon Donovan, an American soccer star, was furious. An opposition player had attacked Martin, an openly homosexual guy, with a homophobic insult moments before, and they debated how to react as they huddled beneath a tent at halftime.
The crew came to the same conclusion: something had to be done. They agreed to walk off the field if the offending player, Phoenix Rising’s Junior Flemmings, was not removed from the game by the official, his coach, or on his own initiative.
San Diego took a 3-1 lead into the last day of the season and needed the victory to stay in the second-tier USL Championship playoff chase. The first-year team would be mathematically eliminated from postseason contention if they lost.
Martin was nervous to say the least.
Martin told ESPN, “I simply was like, ‘No, we really should play this game,’ because this is my nightmare.” “Is my sexuality influencing a soccer match? This is my worst nightmare.”
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His teammates and Donovan, on the other hand, were convinced that it was the correct decision. The teams were supposed to join together in the second half and hold up an anti-discrimination banner that said, “I will speak, I will act.” After another Loyal player, Elijah Martin, was racially harassed in San Diego’s last game, the team asked to boycott the game as a protest.
What sort of message would they have conveyed if they hadn’t responded in response to a discriminatory conduct against one of their own?
When Rising head coach Rick Schantz dismissed it and it became clear that Flemmings would play in the second half, the Loyal went to the locker room. Martin was pushed into the public limelight inadvertently.
“In the time, [Martin] despised the choice, and certainly for the next 24 hours, he despised all the attention and the consequences,” Donovan told ESPN. “However, I believe he was astute enough to see the platform that had been established. That this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to really — and I don’t say this lightly — advance our society and the globe in a good direction. I give him a lot of respect for putting up with all of the unwanted attention and coping with it so that he could assist so many other people.”
The league subsequently banned Flemmings for six games after he denied using an anti-gay epithet against Martin. However, in a November interview with the Advocate, Martin discussed the discussions the two had after the incident: “He apologized after we spoke for a long time. He didn’t acknowledge he shouted the slur at the game or soon after, which was distressing to me, but during our discussion, he admitted that the weeks after the event were difficult for him as well, and he apologized.”
Martin has committed support for Common Goal, an organization that aims to use soccer as a vehicle for social change, as part of his ongoing efforts to assist his community. Common Goal has a network of members who have committed to contribute financially in various amounts, including high-profile current and past soccer players, teams, and other organizations. With players, this translates to a minimum of 1% of their salary being donated to organizations that promote issues that the players are passionate about.
Collin Martin is trying to make soccer more inclusive for the next generation of players as the first out gay male pro soccer player in the United States. Loyal to San Diego
While priorities vary by region, the Common Goal has focused on problems like as racism, gender equality, and the COVID-19 response, among others. Martin’s contribution will go to Play Proud, a Common Goal project aimed at teaching soccer coaches how to create inclusive environments at both the grassroots and professional levels.
The following months “were a lot,” Martin recalled, when the Loyal made their stance last autumn. He’s not an outspoken person by nature, but he had a terrific run in San Diego. Before stepping off the field, he had been happy to concentrate on soccer and was playing a major role on a team that had gone undefeated in its last six games of the season. The season’s sudden conclusion in such a public manner was startling.
The aftermath of the tragedy took a lot of mental energy out of him, but he was eventually able to appreciate what his team had accomplished.
“The silver lining was being able to have a good message come out of a very difficult circumstance,” he added.
Martin has grown to appreciate the importance of what he symbolizes, particularly for the LGBTQ+ community, as the first out gay men’s professional soccer player in the United States — and one of the few who has ever come out worldwide.
It wasn’t always like this. He was content with being accepted by people around him until coming out publicly as a member of Major League Soccer’s Minnesota United FC in 2018. His family, friends, and teammates were all aware of and accepting of his sexuality. Growing up, such reality didn’t seem conceivable, therefore it was already a big step forward.
“But it came to the point where a buddy told me, ‘You can have a far larger effect,’” Martin said. “You have to come out in order to make it easier for the future generation and those who look up to you,” the buddy said.
The reaction was extremely enthusiastic when he made the news as part of Minnesota’s Pride Night.
“The effect I feel like I’ve had on a lot of the children in Minnesota and across the nation, and simply kids that play soccer,” Martin said, “is bigger than anything I’ll ever accomplish on the field.” “It was something that completely astounded me.”
Martin thinks that establishing more inclusive youth sports settings may go a long way toward helping closeted athletes become comfortable with who they are after growing up feeling the need to conceal his sexuality. Although he tries not to dwell on the negative experiences he had as a child with his sexuality, he believes it’s essential to recognize the harm discriminating words can do, especially when no malice is intended.
Collin Martin, a midfielder for San Diego Loyal, credits his former teammates at Minnesota United for their support after he came out as homosexual.
“It keeps you in the closet longer and prevents you from taking a step forward that might enhance your life,” he added. “It’s also a waste of energy for a person to have to listen to particular words or hear certain things and convince themselves that there’s nothing wrong with them.”
“It was just draining. Having to conceal throughout those years, having to convince myself that, “Oh, my closest buddy on the team just called another person an f—-t, he isn’t really homophobic, but he is just trying to be cruel to that person,” etc. That’s difficult, and I’m hoping that the next generation will not have to cope with it.”
Martin is not alone in not having coaches who were ready to intervene to stop homophobic words from being used. That’s just one of the many ways Play Proud is trying to make a difference. Coaches learn how to use more inclusive language and intervene when players use disparaging terms as part of the teaching process.
“LGBTQ kids drop out of sports at a far higher rate than normal youth,” according to Lilli Barrett-O’Keefe, managing director of Common Goal USA and creator of Play Proud. “And then, according to Human Rights Campaign Foundation data, four out of five kids who remain in the game don’t tell their coaches.”
“The’s why it’s important for individuals like Collin to go out and say things like, “What would have been different for me if I had that coach who made me feel like I didn’t have to be closeted?” What would it be like for him if he didn’t have his coaches at Minnesota, or if he didn’t have the support at SD Loyal?”
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Donovan learned early on in his professional career how essential it was to have coaches that cared about the players as individuals. Throughout his playing career, he battled depression and frequently found himself wishing coaches were more sympathetic and understanding. Those lessons have stuck with him now that he’s in charge of the whistle.
“With our guys, my general attitude is that they are people first and players second,” Donovan remarked. “That is a simple statement to say, but it must be lived every day. I constantly come back to the same question: What is best for the individual?”
Martin admires the way you go about things.
“I believe the greatest coaches I’ve ever had recognized that each member of their squad is a unique individual with distinct demands and complexity,” Martin remarked. “If we can be more understanding that our players don’t all fall into the same mold and come from various backgrounds and sexualities, and whatever it is, it will make you a better coach and your team will be better.”
He’s been speaking up about these problems for years, but he’s been irritated by the lack of progress.
“This is when the concepts of Common Goal and Play Proud come into play. They’re really doing the job, teaching coaches at all levels, from professional to kids “he said “For me, it’s having this effort really accomplish the things that I believe we need to do rather than simply talking about it.”