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Robbie Rogers Fails to Blaze a Trail for Gay Athletes

Robbie Rogers comes out, but could he have made a bigger impact if he'd stayed in the game?

By Matthew Shumaker
On March 6, 2013

  • Veteran Rob Rivera. Image Courtesy of Rob Rivera

On February 15, United States soccer player Robbie Rogers publicly came out on his blog and announced his retirement. Rogers joined the short list of professional soccer players to admit the fact they are a homosexual . The last soccer player to come out publicly was ex-Norwich and Nottinham Forest striker, Justin Fashanu. Fashanu came out in 1990, but committed suicide just eight years later at age 37. But Rogers failed to do the most important thing - he failed to keep playing. He failed to become the first soccer player to continue his playing career after admitting that he was gay. He failed to blaze the trail and open the doors for athletes worldwide who are afraid to tell the truth about their personal lives. That in itself is a tragedy and a squandered opportunity at becoming a hero in millions of people's eyes.

Rogers cited the difficulties of living a double life and being honest about who he was, saying, "Secrets can cause so much internal damage. 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."

Rogers goes on to explain how he managed to cope with the stress of keeping such a monumental secret: "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 [along] the way and the friends that supported me once they knew my secret."

No soccer player has ever come out publicly and continued their professional career. Why is this? Do they fear that their teammates, coaches, and fans would not accept them? I could swear there is a saying, "You win with your team and lose with your team." If you do all of the aforementioned with your team, why does it matter who they go home to at the end of the day? Attention was called to Rogers' blog post at first by his link on Twitter. The next day, he noted his surprise, "Thank you everyone for all of the support and love. Wasn't expecting this."

The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) campaigns actively against racism in soccer because 209 nations are involved in various tournaments and leagues across the world. However, I can only recall ever seeing a single commercial promoting equality between heterosexuals and homosexuals on the pitch. Unfortunately, for FIFA, that commercial was by the Royal Dutch Football Association and I saw it on YouTube. However, Clark Carlisle, the head of the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) was in talks with eight gay players over the last year, but revealed that none of them wished to come out publicly.

Rogers, 25, played only one season of college soccer at the University of Maryland. During that season, he won the NCAA Championship and caught the eye of Herenveen in the Netherlands. He was signed by the Dutch side in 2006, but never saw the pitch. For the next four years, he played for the Columbus Crew in Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States, winning the MLS cup in 2008. In 2012, he was signed to Leeds United in England, but was loaned out to Stevenage in a lower division.

One of Rogers' finer moments took place on August 10, 2012, for the U.S. in a match against Mexico where he was sagacious enough to trail Brek Shea into the penalty area and subsequently scored an equalizing goal. Rogers accumulated 18 total appearances for his country accumulating two goals. Rogers, although brave, failed to take the next step for gay soccer players and other athletes alike. He did not blaze the trail for his fellow athletes.

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