Gay assistant AD Drew Martin serves as 'Southern story' for younger generation
Martin discusses growing up gay in the world of sports, the South and its bad reputation, and how living a normal life is possible.
Drew Martin is a vanilla kind of guy.
He gets up and prepares himself every morning for another day on the job as an assistant athletics director at TCU.
With the roller coaster ride of August approaching all too quickly, Martin heads to campus and walks through Amon G. Carter Stadium to its third floor, where his makeshift office in the press box sits.
Thanks to continued construction efforts on Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, this unnaturally quiet behemoth will continue to be Martin’s base of operations for the next 16 months.
It’s not all bad though.
Martin has a view overlooking the TCU football field and his place of employment recently appeared in the 2014 College World Series; all thanks to the Big 12 champion Horned Frog baseball team.
In fact, one could say things are looking pretty good for Drew Martin.
For a gay man working in a sports-filled world south of the Mason-Dixon Line, life has been surprisingly normal.
“I don’t have a tragedy story,” Martin said. “My parents, family, everyone, friends accepted me. My job accepted me. My community embraced me.”
That’s not to say Martin’s life was without its share of problems. Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, Martin’s love of typical “guy” things conflicted with the early ongoing realization of his sexuality.
“Didn’t want to be gay, couldn’t be gay, had all those stereotypes stuck in my head of what it was to be gay,” Martin said. “I wasn’t those things. I played basketball. I ran track. I was an athlete. I enjoyed sports.”
“Surely this is just a phase. This is just something I can figure around.”
The son of a Mississippi State alumnus, Martin and his father frequently attended tailgates since Martin was six years old. They'd go to baseball regionals in the earlier days of Bulldog baseball, visiting Starkville, Mississippi, whenever possible.
The deadline to pick a college drew near for a young Martin and, despite a few other candidates perking his interest, only one real choice stood out among the rest.
“When it came down to it, I liked the idea of Millsaps, but I really liked it because it was close to Mississippi State,” Martin said.
After receiving a scholarship from the Bulldogs, Martin decided he couldn’t pass up on the opportunity.
“It was just a place that I fell in love with in my heart," Martin said. "I pledged a fraternity. I was and am a FIJI.”
Martin seemed to be going through a lot of the same things most people his age did and still do.
All the same, Martin struggled to accept himself and his sexuality; a battle he still faces today.
“I’m still struggling, at this time period in my life, with who I am and what it means,” he said.
“That’s the unfortunate part. My exposure to gay people and gay society was very stilted. It was very stereotypical. It was related in stories. It was not anything I had experienced firsthand.”
Martin’s idea of what it meant to be gay clashed with what he actually was: a typical college-aged man who loved typical college-aged man things like sports and Greek life.
As he would eventually come to realize, Martin's sexuality wasn't a phase, but just another part of who he is.
“As I’ve gotten older and as I came out, I got to meet people that are just like me,” he said.
“I wasn’t afraid to go to a gay bar or go out with some gay friends and meet other people who are like me and realize ‘Wow. It’s just like any other part of society.’ That’s when I realized it wasn’t an abnormality even inside of an abnormality. It’s just life. It’s the way people are made."
The initial obstacles wouldn't stop at being gay. Being a gay athlete in the South brought on added pressure.
“Statistically, it’s not a secret that homosexual athletes, gay men [and] gay women, they exist,” Martin said.
Gay athletes were in the world, but mostly behind closed doors and outside of the public eye. Unfortunately for Martin, he didn’t have a publicly out figure like St. Louis Rams linebacker Michael Sam to look up to.
Sam came out to the public following his final season at Missouri and prior to the 2014 NFL Draft. The Rams selected Sam in the seventh round of the draft, making him the first openly gay NFL player.
“To have a young man in college come out prior to the draft and get drafted [is huge],” Martin said.
Growing up a gay athlete in Martin’s time would be a challenge in itself before adding the fact he did so in a part of the country oftentimes associated with intolerance.
"[People think the South] is close-minded, a little bit backwoods, a little bit redneck." Martin said.
While Martin added the generalizations are not without some basis, he also pointed out Southern states like Mississippi get a bad rap.
“It’s very much about family in the South,” Martin said. “While it may not look that way to outsiders or people that aren’t from the area or don’t understand the culture, I’ve had nothing but support.”
After college, Martin traveled west, working at Texas A&M before accepting a job with TCU, which is located in one of the most historically conservative counties in the entire United States.
Despite this, Martin said he’s felt nothing but love from Tarrant County and the Lone Star State as a whole.
"Texans take care of their own," he said.
The general Fort Worth and TCU communities have been especially positive.
“I feel this community is very welcoming and very open,” Martin said. “The TCU community has been nothing but genuine and loving and supportive of everyone, not just me.”
A Southern Story
Recently, Martin worked with Outsports’ Cyd Zeigler to publish an article about Martin, his fiancé Blake Macon and their journey thus far.
Since the story came out in late April, Martin’s already-tight support system has only grown.
“I’ve been encouraged by a lot of the emails, texts and phone messages I’ve received since the article came out in Outsports,” he said.
Of the many comments, tweets and letters the couple have received, Martin said only one was negative: a 2 a.m. tweet quickly deleted by its author the next morning.
Martin may have been scared and unsure of who he was in his younger years, but he recognizes the importance of getting the word out now, especially in the South where exposure to the homosexual culture may be more limited.
“I think a lot of the focus in the future is going to be on Southern stories and really breaking that barrier,” Martin said. “When I grew up, there wasn’t a Will and Grace. There wasn’t a New Normal or a Modern Family.”
“If you saw a gay man or a lesbian woman, it was very stereotypically portrayed. It was hard to identify with. It was hard to say, ‘Oh yeah! I get that.’ It was more like, ‘Wow. I kind of feel that way but that’s…not…me…uh…where am I?’”
In addition to the struggles and limited exposure of the time, Martin has since realized he created many of the obstacles he faced prior to coming out.
“In my mind, I set a lot of roadblocks,” Martin said. “Oh, I can’t be gay and work in sports. I can’t be gay and advance in sports. I will lose my career. I will lose my friends. I will lose my family. And that’s an unfortunate mindset and it’s a fear that we have.”
“I learned all the scary stuff was between my ears.”
That’s not to diminish the very real and scary struggles others face though.
“There have been a lot of really awful, tragic things go on with several friends of mine,” Martin said. “I just wasn’t one of the those stories.”
He may not have faced some of his peers' hardships, but that doesn’t make his particular story any less important.
“I thought it was important to tell that side,” he said.
Simply by living a normal life, Martin himself serves as a "Southern story."
“I’ve heard from several folks who are struggling with this,” he said. “That’s part of the reason why I did it.”
Martin’s success is not in overcoming oppression, but instead showing people they can be themselves and still have a normal life by living a normal life.
“Speaking as a young man growing up in the South, I’d look at those [stories of personal triumph] and go, ‘Yeah. No way. I mean, that’s awesome that it wound up happy, but I don’t want to go through that,’” Martin said.
“It wasn’t until I got older that I had to be who I was or else I was just gonna lose my mind.”
For his 22-year-old self who believed a normal life couldn’t happen after coming out, Martin had a message.
“Dear 22-year-old Drew Martin, who just took a job at Texas A&M,” he said. “Guess what? It’s going to be OK. You can come out. You can be gay. As long as you do your job, that’s what you’re going to be judged on. And that’s how it should be.”
“Yes. I’m from Memphis, Tennessee. Blake Macon is from Jackson, Mississippi. We have friends throughout the South that are open and gay. We have great stories to tell.”
So, as usual, Martin will get up in the morning and head on over to his office in the press box of Amon G. Carter Stadium.
After work, he’ll head home, where he and Blake will enjoy dinner together like usual before clearing off a DVR filled with their favorite shows.
“We’re kind of plain, vanilla folks,” Martin laughed. “That’s us.”
Vanilla, maybe, but important nonetheless.