In the 79th minute of Minnesota United’s July 4 victory over Toronto F.C., fans at TCF Bank Stadium stood up and applauded midfielder Collin Martin as he came off the bench.
Less than a week earlier, Martin had become the only active male athlete in the major professional sports leagues to come out as gay. That appearance as a substitute was his first since making the announcement.
Sunday at 4 p.m. PDT, LAFC travels to Minnesota to take on Martin’s team at TCF Bank Stadium.
The history of openly gay male athletes in major North American pro leagues is not a long one. In 2011, David Testo, then a former Toronto F.C. player, became the first active male athlete in a major U.S.-based professional league to come out. Rancho Palos Verdes native Robbie Rogers was the first openly gay male to play in a major professional team sport in the U.S. when he made his debut for the Galaxy in 2013.
Jason Collins followed in 2013, playing 22 games in the NBA after coming out. In 2014, SEC defensive player of the year Michael Sam became the first player to be drafted after coming out. Sam played in the preseason with the St. Louis Rams in 2014 and in one game with Montreal of the Canadian Football League.
When Testo retired in 2017, there were no openly gay males in any of the five major professional sports leagues — until Martin came out in a Twitter post. Martin said the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
“It’s been great,” Martin said. “I couldn’t imagine how many people have shown support. It’s been better than I ever could have expected in terms of the support I’ve received from people around the league and different supporters and even just people who have reached out to me with positive messages.”
Martin had privately come out to friends, family and teammates before his announcement to the public, which he said made him feel more comfortable about his sexuality.
“Just having my teammates know that I’m gay was super important,” Martin said. “It really helped make sure they weren’t using language that might be offensive and make sure they were creating the right kind of atmosphere.”
Bob Bradley, now the LAFC coach, gave Rogers his first international cap in 2009, making Rogers the only U.S. men’s team player to have come out as gay. Bradley said Major League Soccer has worked hard to create a welcoming atmosphere for those from all backgrounds.
“I think it’s fantastic that players have the confidence and the support to come out and let people know who they are,” Bradley said. “I think it’s a great message to others who are in situations where it’s not so easy to come forward.
“I had a great opportunity to work with Robbie Rogers early in his career and when Robbie made his announcement I think everybody that knew him had great respect for his announcement. It’s the same for Collin and I think Major League Soccer has always tried to make a strong statement in terms of being accepting in all directions. “To me that’s the way it’s supposed to be. You respect people who are different, who have different ideas, who have different sexual orientation. I think it’s fantastic to see the positive reaction people have had.”