Martin Alfaro: Hitting goals on and off the pitch

Headshot of Martin Alfaro

I was recently rewatching the first season of Ted Lasso, a show about an American football coach who gets hired to coach a European football (we call it soccer) team in merry old England. On the show, coach Lasso strives for fairness and diversity on his team, something that The Philadelphia Falcons, a real-life soccer team here in our city, aims to achieve. The Falcons, which began in 1989, currently sport a men’s and a womxn’s team made up of a diverse group of folks staying fit and having fun. 

Heading the organization is Martin Alfaro, a fellow who excels both on and off the field. On the pitch (that’s the field), he’s a center-mid. Off the pitch, he’s a powerhouse who has a bachelor’s degree in organizational management and a master’s degree in business. Alfaro has been part of several nonprofit advisory boards, including the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (YPN) and Graduate Philadelphia. Recently, he was named one of the 41 members of Leadership Philadelphia’s 2021-2022 Keepers Cohort. Last year, he was named an Innovator of the Year by the Local Media Association. He also has a scholarship in his name at his alma mater, Indian River State College. For his day job, Alfaro is the general manager of AL DÍA, a media company based in Philadelphia that challenges mainstream media stereotypes of the Latino experience in the United States. His Twitter bio states, “All I want is a Wikipedia Page.” As Lizzo said, “It’s about damn time.” 

I read that you went to school in Florida. Is that where you’re from? 

That’s where I grew up, but I was born in Honduras. I don’t remember much from there though. I went to school in Florida from kindergarten through college. So before moving to Maryland and then Philly, all I knew was Florida!

Yikes. 

I know! What happened? It’s been interesting to see how much it’s changed. I had a good childhood in Florida. It was great being in such a diverse place [with] many, many immigrants in our neighborhood and in school. Everybody was from somewhere else. I never experienced any racism, everyone seemed to get along. I just spoke about this the other day. It was interesting to see how with the Trump era, all of that changed. I guess there were a lot of closeted people, not having to do with sexuality but in terms of racism, and he gave them permission to come out and express what they truly felt. And with the current governor, it’s even crazier with all the radical changes that he’s making. People tell me I should just forget about Florida, but my family is still there and I’m a homeowner there as well. But I think that this is just a phase that we’re going through and better things are coming.

What’s your crazy “Florida man” story? 

Oh wow. There was that guy in Miami who ate someone’s face that was in the national news, or any of the stories of people who keep alligators as pets. I grew up in Palm Beach, so we didn’t see a lot of crazy stuff. That is usually in more rural areas. Later, we moved to the Port St. Lucie City area, which was a bit of culture shock because there was nothing there. 

What was your Palm Beach neighborhood like?

We were about 20 minutes from the beach in a small area that was not quite a gated community, but close to it. We had a playground in the middle that was used by everyone. All the houses surrounded it and we’d go there after school and hang out with the neighborhood kids. We lived there until I was in middle school. There were people of all sorts of backgrounds there. It was really nice.  

Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up?

Well, to give you some background, there were three of us kids who were all about a year apart. My sister’s the oldest at 32. I’m next at 31 and we have a brother who just turned 30 and we have a baby brother who’s 22. So there’s a big gap. The three of us would play together and I was always the leader. I was the one who came up with all of the games we would play. I would say, “All right, today we’re going to pretend we’re grown-ups.” I would tell my brother, “OK, you’re going to be a restaurant owner.” And I’d make my sister a teacher and I was always an attorney. I’d wear a suit and tie and practice law or I’d be a CEO. I was running my own little business. I even had a little library where I organized the books and had them all numbered and I would have my siblings check them out. I was very creative at a young age. 

I love that. We’re very simpatico. I would pretend to run a candy store out of the kitchen and use Monopoly money and I would also act as a WWE fight promoter and have my little brother and my neighbor as wrestlers with names like “Mighty Mike” and “The Furious Flash.” 

Ha! Yeah, I was never the kid who wanted to play with toys. My brother was into video games and my sister loved watching TV but that was never me. So to go back and answer your question, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be but I knew that I wanted to be in a suit. It’s funny. I’ve always been like an old man, even as a kid. I was always friends with my teachers and had great conversations with adults. I was very mature at a young age. 

What did your parents do and what traits did you get from them?

There’s a pretty significant age difference between my parents. My dad is 15 years older than my mother. He’s a very hard worker. He’s been in construction all his life and had his own company, still does. He didn’t have much of an education, just through high school in Honduras. My mom and her sisters on the other hand had a chance to go to school while her brothers had to do manual labor in the fields. She went to college and became a teacher but when they migrated to this country, she had to take whatever job she could find until she found a way to continue her education and get her titles transferred so that she was able to get back into education. She was very impressive. I was torn growing up because my mom always stressed education, she said that each generation should do better than the last. While my dad believed that it was all about hard work and to him, hard work meant physical labor. I think he had more means than my mom growing up and felt that we should go into his business. But that was not for me. I felt I could work hard without having to break a sweat under the sun. I was hoping that my sister would go to college first and break the ice [and] figure out a path that I could follow, but she wanted to start a family. So I had to try to figure things out on my own. Fortunately, my younger brother followed in my dad’s footsteps and works with him to this day at the construction company so that took a little heat off, but it was still pretty tense being caught between my father’s opinion on what we should do and my mother’s. My youngest brother followed in my footsteps and also went the education route. But what’s funny is that in traits, I am more like my father. My mother is extremely organized, which is not me. She has a plan for everything and I’m more “go with the flow.” I’m spontaneous, which is like my dad. He’s more of a social person who doesn’t take things too seriously. 

Did you play any sports?

Yes, I played soccer my whole life and when I was in high school I ran cross country and did track and field. I was very involved at school, [and] not just sports. I was in the National Honor Society. I was part of the Earth Club, and many other things. But soccer was special. My dad and his brother were well known soccer players in the area where they lived in Honduras. They were identical twins and they played on the same team. I have great photos of the two of them playing together. So soccer was big in our family. No matter where I’ve gone, I’ve found a way to play. When I was in Maryland, we played a few times a week, sometimes at midnight. I still play several times a week here. 

What position do you play?

I play forward and center-mid, which I prefer because you get to run a lot more and it’s a position that can make or break the team. 

What’s your greatest sports memory?

I was always in the same school as at least one of my siblings because we were so close in age. One year, my brother and I were on the same team and we won the championship. I have a photo of me and my brother holding up the trophy. It was awesome. 

How did you tell the family about being gay?

I always knew, but never had a desire to come out. I was so busy with everything: School and soccer and even some girlfriends. I didn’t have time to deal with it or make it a priority. On top of that, back in Port St. Lucie, there were some kids who were out and they got bullied. They were the over-the-top kids who didn’t seem to care what people thought or did to them. But I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to have people pointing their fingers at me. Even though it was a good place to grow up outside of that, I always had the dream even as a little kid to get away from there. I just wanted more. I wanted to live in a big city with skyscrapers. In college, I was given an opportunity to work in Maryland. [It’s] not quite the big city, but it got me a little closer. It was a chance for me to grow professionally and personally, a chance to be the person I was hiding. So I left Florida and it was a first step. About a year later, out of the blue, I had the urge to come out. So I called my sister and my mom and told them. My mom said, “You’re my son and I love you and support you.” And we were all crying. It was a mess because I’m usually a rock. Then I said, “Can you also tell my dad?” And she said, “Yeah, I’ll take care of that.” My littlest brother is from Gen Z and [that generation is full of] strange people. They just don’t care. He was like [deadpans], “Oh yeah? Congrats.” 

That’s great, hopefully these young folks can help correct the damage that’s being done right now. What brought you to Philadelphia? 

I felt like there was no room to grow at my last job and whenever I get that urge, I know its time to go. I have a little of that free spirit in me where I’m not afraid to go someplace where I don’t know anyone. So I selected Philly. It’s been 6 years and I love it here. 

And you’ve landed at the highly respected Al DÍA. I read that one of the great things about working at Al DÍA is that it’s a place where you can learn and fail and explore without fear. That’s remarkable in this cancel-culture period we’re in where people are afraid to say anything. 

Yes, there’s a great ecosystem here. I was able to make my way up from sales to be the first general manager ever. And I think there’s a good opportunity to reinvent what news and media look like. Often, fresh ideas come out of failure and they give you the opportunity here to try new things. I encourage my team across the different departments to do the same. It’s been a great journey. 

Tell me a little about the Falcons. 

Yes, I’ve served on the board for a few years and this year, I became president. When I came to Philly, I didn’t know many people but thanks to our mutual friend, Greg Seaney-Ariano, I learned about the organization and I’ve been supporting the organization ever since. I used to play where I believed it was about the sport, not necessarily the individual. But joining the Falcons gave me a different perspective. There are all kinds of people at all skill levels and you learn to accommodate and respect them all. There are 11 people on that team and it’s important to make sure they all feel empowered to just do their best. We started this season with some people who had never played soccer, and we encourage that. We are open to all no matter your background, skill level, gender, sexual orientation or whatever. We have pickup games on Thursdays and they’re a great way to check us out and see if you like it. 

I saw on the website that you have a bar crawl coming up.

Yes, it’s going to be a celebration of the season that’s just ending and we’ll be giving out awards. We kick off at Tabu and go throughout the Gayborhood. We have our summer league starting on July 12, so it’s a good opportunity for people to come out and meet everyone. A lot of times in this community, we’re by ourselves. I didn’t know anyone when I started. But this is a way to meet other people and build community.

Sounds good. OK, let’s wrap up with some rapid-fire questions. What profession, that you’ve never pursued, do you think you’d be good at?

A surgeon. I’m very meticulous so…

Someone from the past you’d like to talk to?

My grandfathers. I never got to meet my grandfathers. They both died before I was born. I’d love the chance to have a conversation with them. 

A sporting event that you wish you’d seen?

The World Cup. And it’s coming here so I won’t have to go anywhere to make my dream come true! 

What’s an Olympic event, other than track or soccer, that you’d compete in if you could?

It’s so funny looking that I think it would be interesting to try: Speedwalking! I could watch that all day. 

Good one. It makes me giggle every time I see it! Any notable celebrity encounters?

I was in Ariana Grande’s house in NY. She wasn’t there but I was invited to a party by a friend of her brother’s. I’ve met a few celebrities, but that was the coolest I think. I was all over the house, even in her bedroom!

What? I’m jealous. Words of wisdom?

It can be so easy to get wrapped up in the things that go on in our lives that I always try to remind myself that no matter what happens, it’s one day at a time. Just take things one day at a time.