Pro Soccer Star Comes Out - Then Retires
The world of football ("soccer" to Americans) has reacted with support from fans and players alike to a professional winger declaring on his blog that he is gay.
Much to the dismay of LGBT advocates and their allies, however, in the same blog, Robbie Rogers wrote that he would "step away. It’s time to discover myself away from football," thus depriving the world’s most popular sport of its first out-gay player.
"Secrets can cause so much internal damage," Rogers wrote. "People love to preach about honesty, how honesty is so plain and simple. Try explaining to your loved ones after 25 years you are gay. Try convincing yourself that your creator has the most wonderful purpose for you even though you were taught differently.
"I always thought I could hide this secret. Football was my escape, my purpose, my identity. Football hid my secret, gave me more joy than I could have ever imagined... I will always be thankful for my career. I will remember Beijing, The MLS Cup, and most of all my teammates. I will never forget the friends I have made a long the way and the friends that supported me once they knew my secret."
Rogers, 25, was born in California and played soccer at the University of Maryland. He first played professionally in the Netherlands in 2006. He then played for Columbus Crew, the Columbus, Ohio, Major League Soccer team.
Most recently, he went to the soccer-crazy United Kingdom, where has been affiliated with Leeds United, a team in the northern English city of Leeds. He played there for a short time before injuries derailed his career. His last team was Stevanage, a team in a county east of London. Rogers’ most impressive appearances were with a confederation of players in North America, Central America and the Caribbean in FIFA, the governing body of the World Cup.
On Outsports, Jim Buzinski, wrote, I am still trying to process a 25-year-old stepping away from a sport he loves."
A column by Cyd Zeigler Jr. on Outsports maintained, as per the headline, that "Rogers’ coming out shows the transformation of sports." Zeigler noted the outpouring of support for Rogers from players in the U.S. and Britain.
An article in Sports Illustrated made much the same point. "The coolest thing to see Friday was the outpouring of support for Rogers on Twitter from the U.S. soccer community," SI’s soccer blogger, Gran Wahl, wrote, "from fans to media to a Who’s Who of players including Carlos Bocanegra, Omar González, Sacha Kljestan, Stuart Holden, Ali Krieger, Oguchi Onyewu, Lori Lindsey, Heath Pearce, Benny Feilhaber and Kei Kamara.
An article in the Guardian, a national U.K. newspaper, had 238 comments, the overwhelming majority of them supporting Rogers. Many commenters bemoaned the fact that he apparently felt compelled to retire (at least temporarily).
"Sad that at 25 he is calling quits on his career," wrote "Captain Gray." "Seems a bit premature and I would speculate that the prejudices he has met might have had an impact, so doubly sad."
"I sincerely hope that a vigorous campaign is launched by the players, staff and fans at the Leeds and Stevenage clubs to publicly announce that he is welcome to stay and play for them," wrote another commenter, "stopthewars." "Come on Leeds and Stevange, this is your chance to show that anti-gay bigotry has no place in your clubs."
The BBC’s report on Rogers quoted a senior official at FA, the British pro soccer organization, as saying that "the FA is trying to make contact with him offering our support.
"Whether Robbie stays in the game or steps away for a break he has our full backing."
Last year, the BBC reported, the FA launched a six-point action program to counter homophobia and transphobia. The head of the U.K. pro players’ league told the Beeb, ""We do have players who’ve said that, while they are gay, they don’t feel comfortable enough to come out."
"We know of players who are playing who are gay who’ve not had that confidence as yet," Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association said. "But, as the rest of the world becomes more civilised, hopefully that will come."
One prominent soccer blog site, Goal.com, wrote in an editorial pointedly titled, "Courageous Robbie Rogers doesn’t owe us anything," "As Rogers came out, the American soccer culture also came out as one filled with tolerance and acceptance."
Rogers’ next step has left many speculating. On his own blog, Rogers wrote how much he was enjoying living in London. Wahl wrote that he took a job at the British version of Men’s Health, but The New York Times that Rogers "has done some recent work" for the magazine.
Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).