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Why pro soccer player Collin Martin decided to come out

Collin Martin, a midfielder for Minnesota United FC, pictured in 2013. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Major League Soccer midfielder Collin Martin came out Friday as a gay man, announcing his sexuality publicly for the first time, though he said it had been known for years by family, friends and teammates.

Martin, 23, made the announcement on social media hours before his club, Minnesota United FC, was scheduled to host FC Dallas for its “Pride Match” in support of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Today, I’m proud that my entire team and the management of Minnesota United know that I am gay,” Martin wrote in a message on Twitter. “I have received only kindness and acceptance from everyone in Major League Soccer and that has made the decision to come out publicly that much easier.”

“I think for a while I’ve been hesitant about posting on social media, but look around — I’m the only out gay athlete in the five major [U.S.] sports on the men’s side,” Martin, a Bethesda native, said in a phone interview Friday. “It’s time.”

Martin began privately telling select family and friends about his sexuality at age 19. Those conversations were nerve-racking, he said, but the support he received helped him gain the confidence to come out to his parents at 21, then to teammates and team management soon after.

He told his parents on Monday that he was planning a public coming-out announcement to coincide with the end of Pride Month and with the team’s pride match.

“We talked with him frankly, how a parent would talk with anyone about being public about something that is, for many, a private issue,” his father Gerard Martin said. “He felt strongly about it.”

“Representation is huge,” Collin Martin said. “Having role models in any workplace in any setting in life is important. The fact is, there aren’t enough professional athletes that are good role models for kids that are growing up that are gay. 

“People need to know that it doesn’t matter what sexuality you are, how old you are, what race. It doesn’t matter. You’re going to be received well on a team as long as you’re a good teammate and do your job every day.”

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Gerard Martin said he and Collin’s mother told their son the same thing Monday that they did when Collin came out years ago.

We love him. We support him,” Gerard Martin said. “In our parenting of all of our kids, we say, you take what they give you. You can’t order up things. They are who they are. We love him and we’re proud of him.”

Collin Martin is in his sixth MLS season and second in Minnesota. The Bethesda-Chevy Chase High graduate and 2011 All-Met selection broke into the league in 2013 after one year of college at Wake Forest. He transferred to George Washington and played professionally with D.C. United.

After four seasons without much playing time, United shipped him to Minnesota in exchange for a 2018 fourth-round draft pick.

But Martin has consistently cracked Minnesota’s lineup, appearing in 11 games with seven starts last season and six games with three starts this year.

“In light of my experience as a professional athlete,” Martin wrote in his tweet, “I want to take this moment to encourage others who play sports professionally or otherwise to have confidence that sport will welcome them wholeheartedly. June is Pride month, and I am proud to be playing for Pride, and to be playing as an out gay man.”

He is the second MLS player in recent years to come out during his playing career. Robbie Rogers announced he was gay in 2013 and retired immediately; three months later, he announced his return to the game and was acquired by the Los Angeles Galaxy. (He retired in 2017 due to injuries.)

“Love this!” Rogers wrote Friday while posting Martin’s message. “So so inspiring.”

Teammates also posted messages of support, with one calling Martin “an incredible person and amazing teammate.”

Figures from around professional soccer cheered on Martin’s announcement.

Orlando City SC wrote to Martin on Twitter, “You have support from all of us in Orlando!”

Timbers Army, the official fan section of the Portland Timbers responded, “You may not wear green and gold, but we’re proud to know you. Cheers and congratulations. You’ve got an Army behind you (from afar).”

“We admire Collin’s courage, and are proud of him and of the support from the soccer community,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement.

Those messages have been a relief, Martin said. He was nervous all morning knowing his announcement was set to go public just before noon. He had steeled himself for all kinds of reactions, but also knew he had a game to play Friday night, no matter the reaction.

“Once I clicked that button, it was gonna be life changing for me,” he said. “It was a weight that was lifted, for sure.”

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