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Minnesota United player Collin Martin comes out as gay

Minnesota United midfielder Collin Martin (17) kicks a goal against FC Cincinnati during a penalty kick shootout at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati on June 6, 2018. Aaron Doster / USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL — Collin Martin told his parents, Gerard and Roberta, on Monday, June 25, that he was going to publicly announce himself as a gay man this week, and in effect, become the only men's professional athlete in the five major U.S. sports with that title.

They went over the pros and cons of such a groundbreaking announcement and determined the positives far outweighed the negatives. On Friday, Collin, a 23-year-old midfielder for Minnesota United, made the announcement, hours before the Loons held Pride Night in support of the LGBTQ community at TCF Bank Stadium.

"I have been out as a gay man for many years to my family and friends, and this includes my teammates," Martin wrote. "Today, I'm proud that my entire team and the management of Minnesota United know that I am gay. I have received only kindness and acceptance from everyone in Major League Soccer and that has made my decision to come out publicly much easier."

That message received 38,000 "likes" on Twitter, more than 8,000 retweets and a bevy of other well-wishes as of Friday afternoon. "There have been some hateful things, but I've been amazed at how supportive it has been," Gerard Martin told the Pioneer Press. "But as a parent you worry."

Martin, of Chevy Chase, Md., is the second known Major League Soccer player to publicly come out as gay, following the Los Angeles Galaxy's Robbie Rogers in April 2013. Rogers' announcement came during a year when NBA's Jason Collins and the NFL's Michael Sam also announced they are gay. Collins, Sam and Rogers have since retired.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber offered this statement: "We admire Collin's courage, and are proud of him and of the support from the soccer community."

Athlete Ally, an advocacy organization for the LGBTQ and sports communities, knew Martin's news was coming, but that didn't stop "screams of joy" within their seven-person office once it was released Friday morning.

"He is making such a powerful statement and it's incredibly inspiring and brave," said Anne Lieberman, Athlete Ally's director of policy and programs.

"There is still a serious barrier to LGBTQ inclusion in sports and there is not really enough proactive commitment on the part of either individual athletes that are allies or teams, leagues, coaches around LGBTQ inclusion," Lieberman said. "That is evidenced when it's a major news story when an athlete comes out, period, male or female."

Leiberman pointed to issues of NFL players have had kneeling during the national anthem as an example of consequences when people let their views become public.

"We see that there is discrimination any time a player takes a 'political stance,'" Lieberman said. "... And folks that are queer, our very identities and our existence, can be political to some people, and that can be a threat."

Martin — who has played six season in MLS, four with D.C. United and two with the Loons — went on to encourage others who play pro sports to "have confidence that sport will welcome them wholeheartedly."

Martin came out to friends, his four siblings and his parents, in that order, about two years ago when he was with D.C. United. "Our reaction was thankful that he finally told us about being gay and supportive," Gerard Martin said. "We told him simply that we loved him. It was a supportive message and one of love."

Gerard Martin also made his support public with a tweet: "Collin proud of you and what you stand for. Love dad"

As part of Pride Night, the Loons will have many festivities and displays of support to the gay communities when they play FC Dallas at 7 p.m. Friday. The Loons will wear jerseys with rainbow-colored numbers.

Martin has played in six games this season, including three starts. He was part of the starting lineup and played 64 minutes in Minnesota's 3-2 loss to Colorado on Saturday; he could receive another start Friday.

Minnesota men's sports had former Vikings player Esera Tuolo come out as gay in 2002, three years after he retired from the Carolina Panthers. He was first community member to be included in United's L'Étoile Du Nord (Star of the North) program, which recognizing community members that align with the club's values.

Athlete Ally hopes to partner with Martin in future initiatives and help pave the way for others to feel comfortable sharing they're gay. "There is still so much work to be done," Leiberman said, "and he really is an incredible role model."