Bethesda Interview: Collin Martin
The professional soccer player talks about high school life at B-CC, and being an openly gay male athlete
How did you approach telling your parents?
That was the toughest for me. A lot of people knew, and I felt great; I was thankful I started this process. I actually told our best family friends first to gauge their reaction. To be honest, I got kind of a neutral reaction from the friends, and they said it might be hard for my parents to wrap their heads around it. A lot had to do with the religious aspect for me. I grew up in a religious family. When I told my mother’s closest friend, I got the support I needed from her—but it was hardly like, ‘OK, tomorrow go and tell your parents.’ She said, ‘I don’t know how they will react.’ And I knew it was going to be hard.
And was it?
I told them in the spring [of 2016], before my last season with D.C. United. The three of us just had dinner together. It went well, but it was very emotional over the two hours we talked. They were completely surprised; they said they had no clue. My mom was crying a lot. They had a lot of questions. Was I being safe? Did I need therapy to deal with the stress [of keeping a secret]? When I left them, I was feeling good. It was hard for them to hear that I told some of their friends first. But the crazy thing was, a week after I came out, I told them I was having a friend visit and asked if I could bring him to their house. And they said sure, no problem. And we started dating not long after that. And I dated him for two years—he was invited right into the family.
During your time in D.C., did you have any guidance from anyone?
I became friends with an older man. And then I decided I needed to find someone my own age, and I found a student at [a local college]. After a time, I told the student friend I was no longer interested. I was in the middle of my season, still deep in the closet, and he stalked and harassed me. He told me he was going to out me to journalists. It was one of the hardest times of my life. So I went to my older friend, who told me I had legal recourse. He helped me prepare legal papers, which I sent to the kid and his parents. I was so angry. I felt completely at the mercy of someone else. The idea of being outed like that…getting the decision taken away from you is pretty horrible.
How did you decide on making a public announcement?
It was Pride month in Minneapolis and I had participated in Playing for Pride [a fundraiser for LGBTQ causes], which was started by Austin da Luz, a North Carolina FC [Football Club] player who I knew at Wake Forest. A journalist asked me why I was participating, and I just said that I was supporting my friend. At this point, my Minnesota teammates knew—I had done a full season with my boyfriend around the team. At the same time, I knew that there was no male athlete out in the pro leagues. I didn’t want to be that guy, but I also realized, ‘Hey, I can be that guy!’
How did you choose the moment to announce?
Our Pride [Night] game was at the end of the month [June, 2018] and I wanted to do it before the game. I had about a week to figure it out. I wanted to celebrate with the fans. My brother Tyler flew out to support me, and that was really nice. He helped calm me down when I had to do a television interview that morning. I had told my parents only a few days before that this was what I was going to do [go public]. My boyfriend said, ‘Do you realize how big this is going to be?’ He helped me get it on the local and national news. We wrote a nice tweet and it just blew up. It really blew up! I didn’t get any negative reaction that was super bad. I received lots of supportive messages from celebrities, like actors Gabrielle Union and James Corden.
Before your tweet, did you consult with any of the other pro athletes who had previously come out?
Not before. Afterwards, Robbie Rogers gave me a call, and that was really nice. It’s hard for a professional athlete: Why would you talk to someone who doesn’t know you? It’s a pretty personal thing. So no one currently in pro sports reached out, which neither surprises or doesn’t surprise me. I looked up to Robbie, and when he came out, I thought I wouldn’t have to. I thought I could just play in peace and quiet—but that’s not the case.
Do you think coming out is more difficult for athletes in other pro sports?
It may be. Possibly because of their sponsors—or a macho image. But it’s just as hard if you’re playing soccer abroad, in Spain or Italy or Africa. There’s not a single [male] person who’s out in any other pro league around the world. There’s so many soccer players who are in the closet and can’t come out because of their clubs and their sponsorships, especially in Spain. There’s tons.
Do you wish you had been able to go public while playing in D.C.?
No, it was just a matter of timing. The gay community in Minneapolis is incredible; big and supportive and welcoming. I didn’t know how large it was. That’s one of the things that’s been great for me. Both teams—in D.C. and Minnesota—have been very supportive, and both would have given me the same opportunity.
Your announcement surprised many people. Did anything about the reaction surprise you?
The social media reaction to my tweet. I had no idea so many people would care about my coming out. It still amazes me today that I’m the only male athlete out in the five major sports currently playing. That’s incredible to me. I’m glad someone is doing it. I wish there was more of me. The reality is, if you’re gay or you’re speaking out politically and your team doesn’t want you to do that…you’re putting yourself out there and it’s a disadvantage.
In my experience, that hasn’t been the case. My team cares about my performance, how I play on the field. That should be the case in most places. But there are players who don’t want to risk it, and others who just aren’t there yet. Some may just want to keep it private and not talk about who they are sleeping with. A straight athlete is not expected to announce he’s sleeping with girls. Maybe [gay athletes] haven’t been accepted by their family, haven’t felt the love, so why would they expect to be accepted by the public?
Did you think you might serve as an example to young boys who are struggling?
When my coach [Adrian Heath] talked to me the day before my announcement, he said, ‘I realize this is bigger than yourself. You’re going to help a lot of people.’ That wasn’t the exact reason I did it, but it’s a big reason. And the messages I’ve gotten from all over the world support that. I got messages from guys around the league like Jozy Altidore and Landon Donovan. Plus I got thousands of messages thanking me for standing up for gay people. I still get messages every day—it’s a bit overwhelming—some of them from boys or young men asking my advice on whether to come out. How do I respond? Do I have a responsibility to respond? That’s kind of hard.
Why do you think women athletes have come out in greater numbers?
I think they have the support within the team. Now that so many girls have come out, they know they can get that acceptance in the team. And that’s who you care about—the team. Who cares if the public doesn’t agree with me as a person, or people I don’t know don’t like that I’m gay? My teammates, the people who I’m with every day, that’s who I care about. There are tons of women [who have come out]—there’s a ripple effect.
Do you want to play in Europe?
As a kid, I always did. It might not happen, we’ll see. It would have been interesting how my career would have gone if I had chosen to play in Germany right out of high school. I don’t think I would have been ready for it. It would have been a big wake-up call. My career is just chugging along. I could probably go to Europe and play second or third division and love it. We’ll see how this next year goes.