On June 29, 2018, Collin Martin wrote a tweet heard ’round the world.
Martin, a professional soccer player, announced via Twitter that he is gay. The 24-year-old mid-fielder grew up in Chevy Chase as a soccer prodigy. At age 12, he moved to Ohio by himself to train for 18 months at a soccer academy owned by longtime U.S. national team goalkeeper Brad Friedel. He later attended Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, spent a year away at college, and then turned professional in 2013. He was a member of D.C. United for four seasons before being traded to Minnesota United in January 2017.
In the public worlds of entertainment, media, the arts—even politics—such an announcement barely registers as news. Professional male sports are the exception. Currently, there are about 4,430 male athletes playing professionally in Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the NFL, the NBA and the NHL. When Martin came out last summer on Pride Night in Minneapolis—an event that celebrates the LGBTQ community—he was alone in affirming his homosexuality.
Robbie Rogers, a former University of Maryland and professional soccer player, came out in 2013 but is now out of the game. Ditto Jason Collins, who played in the NBA and retired in 2014. Most recently, there was Michael Sam, who was drafted and had a brief career in the NFL before retiring for mental health reasons.
Martin, who has just earned an undergraduate degree in history from George Washington University in D.C., is the next-to-youngest of five siblings. He still has a journal that he kept during fourth grade at Chevy Chase Elementary School. “I want to be a professional soccer player,” he wrote at the time, an ambition that never changed and was finally fulfilled, even though it meant being away from home at times for training and competing against older boys.
Martin was raised in what he describes as a supportive, loving and religious household. (His family is Episcopalian.) His father, Gerard Martin, is an eminent pediatric cardiologist with Children’s National Health System in the District, and his mother, Roberta, is a pastoral counselor. Still, his parents were among the last people he told. Coming out is still a fraught decision, even in a supposedly enlightened era. For a professional athlete who has to factor in teammates, coaches, owners and sponsors, the equation is even more complicated.
Bethesda Magazine spoke with Martin in November, during a break between soccer seasons, about his decision to come out publicly and the tortuous, emotional and courageous journey that he hopes may inspire other young people.
When did you begin to think that you might be gay?
Maybe some people can pinpoint it, but it’s hard. I feel like maybe I knew as early as second grade. …I knew something was there; I just didn’t like girls. I didn’t know exactly what that meant. Growing up in a heteronormative world you’re taught this is what happens [dating the opposite sex]. When you think you’re gay, it takes awhile to understand that—especially as a kid.
What was your high school life like?
In high school, I had no thought of dating anybody, no thought of acting on certain feelings of wanting to get with a guy or letting it be known. I dated some girls in high school because I felt pressured. I didn’t want to date girls. I felt pressure from friends…a lot from my teammates. You could lie, or beat around the bush. The lying took a mental toll on me. I had to pretend, to be someone I wasn’t. It took a lot to keep up that lie. Fast forward…that year in college [at Wake Forest University] was hard for me, as well. That was the last real year where I was thinking: What’s going on here? Am I going to have to marry a woman?
Did you think then of confiding in your siblings?
Not at all. I always talked to them, but that topic wasn’t one that was open to me. I never felt comfortable talking about my sexuality with them until I came out. Maybe I didn’t feel it was OK. Maybe I didn’t feel that I’d be completely accepted. In the end, they were completely supportive. For kids now…it’s a lot more accepted, and kids are coming out earlier…knowing they will be loved and supported. And I would have been, too. It was going to be a big step for me, and it wasn’t going to happen yet.
How did you deal with hearing homophobic remarks?
I have a thick skin. I had a unique experience with that type of language because it’s language I would use as well as my dearest friends at B-CC. I knew they didn’t mean it that way, so I brushed it off. My friends at the soccer academy would call someone they didn’t like ‘gay.’ It was tough for me. We have work to do with the use of that language.
You spent a year at Wake Forest University. Describe your time at college.
It was an interesting time. I had to grow up. I graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in three years because I knew I wanted to kick-start my [soccer] career. I had an offer to go play for the TSG 1899 Hoffenheim reserve team in Germany or go to college and then turn pro. There was a lot I had to learn. I intended to continue at Wake, but in the summer after my freshman year , D.C. United offered me a very good contract. Plus, they worked it out that I was able to transfer credits to George Washington University and continue my education.
So how did you finally come out to your family?
After I signed a contract with D.C. United, that first year I said, I have to figure this out. The first people I came out to were [gay] people I was meeting. During my second season, I told my two dearest friends from B-CC and some other friends, including my D.C. teammate Chris Rolfe, who went to Wake. They were supportive, of course, but at first they thought I was messing with them. But I was dropping lots of hints. I’d say, ‘Oh, that guy looks really attractive.’ Then when we were at our house in Bethany Beach [in 2015], my sister Bethany actually asked me, so I told her and my older sister, Erin, who wasn’t at the beach. I think my brother Trevor already had guessed, and my younger brother, Tyler, may have heard it from my close friends who I’d already told. They never urged me to tell our parents; it took a full year more before I told my parents.