SAN DIEGO – Collin Martin drew a lot of attention during his first season with the San Diego Loyal.
On the pitch, he found his love of soccer again. He also drew some hate, which he and the Loyal used to make a statement and try to make the game better.
“For this to happen and for there to be a statement made by my teammates that it wasn’t going to be okay, it meant so much,” Martin said.
That statement came Sept. 30 late in the first half during the Loyal’s final match of their inaugural season. Phoenix Rising FC forward Junior Flemmings directed the slur at Martin, leading the Loyal to walk off the field in solidarity.
They forfeited the game, but told the soccer world — and anyone listening, in fact — that they would not tolerate that kind of language and bigotry.
“And the way (Loyal Manager) Landon Donovan dealt with it and the impact his words had globally in his support for me and I hope the impact will be lasting and I hope a lot of people who were looking up to his words, took something from it,” Martin said.
Perhaps they did. In mid-December, Paris Saint-Germain — one of the most visible clubs in the world — walked off the field after an official hurled a racial slur against an opposing coach during a Champions League match.
“It’s about time that teams in Europe started to stick up to this stuff,” Martin said. “I think for people to understand that this is not going to be tolerated, you have to take the product off the field.”
Martin said Flemmings, who ultimately was suspended six games and fined an undisclosed amount of money, called to apologize, and Martin accepted.
Martin also said that he does not regret coming out as gay when he did nearly three years ago.
“I didn’t want to retire and have not come out,” he said. “To me, that would have been cowardly and a missed opportunity to be a role model for others. The reality is that I’m still the only gay man in any of the sports right now.”
The other reality: Martin’s one of the best players on the Loyal soccer team.
“Our media team asked our players in their exit interviews who they thought the best player on our team was,” Donovan said. “And I think about 90% of them said Collin.”
“It’s humbling,” Martin said. “It shows that I made an impact on my teammates personally, regardless of the soccer side of it. It also shows that I was enjoying myself for the first time in awhile professionally.
“When you enjoy yourself on the field, it translates to hopefully good performances.”