On Friday night, Minnesota United FC is hosting FC Dallas for their second annual Pride Night. On the pitch, celebrating with his teammates, will be the only active gay athlete in men’s US professional team sports.
Loons midfielder Collin Martin on Friday morning announced to the world via Twitter that he is a gay man. Though he said his friends, family, and teammates have known for years about his sexual orientation, this will be the first time in his six-year MLS career that Martin will play a game publicly out.
Tonight my team, @MNUFC , is having their Pride night. It's an important night for me — I'll be announcing that I am an openly gay player in Major League Soccer. #soccerforall pic.twitter.com/cOJQXfrBiv
— Collin Martin (@martcw12) June 29, 2018
In recent years, a handful of professional athletes have come out as LGBTQ. Michael Sam became the first openly gay football player to be selected in the NFL Draft, but never appeared in a professional game. Jason Collins made history by becoming the first openly gay man to play in the NBA when he signed with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets in 2014, nearly a year after he publicly came out in an interview with Sports Illustrated. And elsewhere in MLS, Robbie Rogers — who publicly came out in early 2013 shortly after he initially retired from the game when his Premiere League club cut him — joined the LA Galaxy months later to become the first gay man to play in a game in any of the five major professional sports leagues.
Having out LGBTQ athletes is old hat in women’s professional team sports leagues, though. Dozens of players across the WNBA, NWSL (soccer), and NWHL (hockey) compete openly, including stars like Brittney Griner, Sue Bird, Megan Rapinoe, and Harrison Browne.
The experiences of the athletes who chose to come out varies, though. Michael Sam has cited his decision to come out before the NFL draft as the reason his playing career never took off. WNBA players faced opposition from within their own locker rooms when teams tried to mandate Pride t-shirts be worn during Pride Night. And even though there have been nearly 19,000 men to appear in a Major League Baseball game, not one athlete has felt comfortable enough to publicly come out.
Martin hopes his decision to share his story will help change some of those sentiments.
“I want to take this moment to encourage others who play sports professionally or otherwise to have confidence that sport will welcome them wholeheartedly,” he said in a statement he shared on Twitter.
Athlete Ally, an organization that fights for LGBTQ inclusion in sports, echoed the sentiment.
“His decision is an inspiration and sends a strong signal to LGBTQ athletes around the world that they’re able to compete openly and authentically at the highest levels of their sport,” said spokesperson Taylor Carr in a statement.