Is Soccer Ready to Retire Its Last Taboo?

As a teenager, Collin Martin felt he had to make a choice. For as long as he could remember, his ambition had been to become a professional soccer player, to make a living doing the thing he loved. He had a sense, though, that it was not compatible with who he was. Martin was gay, and there were — as far as he knew — no gay soccer players.

The two things, he came to believe, could not coexist. He could either play soccer, or he could be himself. In his telling, he approached the choice with a cool rationality.

“This doesn’t seem like something I can take with me while I pursue my dreams,” he said of his logic. “I was more than ready to be in the closet. Forever.” Or at least, he thought, long enough “for me to live out my dream.”

In reality, that contrast was not quite that stark. In 2018, at age 23, and while he was playing for Minnesota United in Major League Soccer, Martin came out as gay. He was thought to be the only openly gay male professional soccer player in the world at the time. There were, he said, occasional awkward moments with teammates, but he found the status bearable. His fear had been misplaced. His sexuality and his profession were not in conflict.

And then, a couple of years later, his “nightmare” came to pass. During a crucial, end-of-season game with San Diego Loyal, in the U.S.L. Championship, Martin heard an opponent call him a homophobic slur. He reported it to the referee. Martin was immediately sent off; the official had assumed Martin was using the slur toward him.

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