Robbie Rogers: Reflections on the Past Six Weeks
That day was momentous for me. Yes, other players, both men and women, have come out in the past few years. Hysen, Testo, Rapinoe, Lindsey. I’ve rooted against Testo and I’ve rooted for Rapinoe. But Robbie Rogers was just different somehow for me, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Maybe it’s because I cheered him on from the supporters section at the 2009 Gold Cup. Maybe it’s because I cheered him on from my local American Outlaws bar when he scored against Mexico in 2011. Maybe it’s because as a recent Major League Soccer player I watched him play week after week on MLS Live.
Maybe it’s because he’s just so darned cute. I don’t know. But I was moved and dumbstruck reading his blog post over and over that day last month. And I cried more than once.
A great deal has been said in the time since. He has been largely been praised and lauded as heroic for his coming out. He has been questioned for seemingly ending his career at the same time as his announcement. So much has been said that I haven’t weighed in myself, but with several interviews with Rogers being published at the end of last week, I feel that I have some thoughts to pull together on everything I’ve seen, heard, and felt since February 15.
It really was that pair of interviews that has triggered me to write something about Rogers’ coming out. Being a British publication, it was the Guardian interview that I saw first, and reading it broke my heart. I read the words over and over again, that Rogers feels that a homophobic culture is one of the problems he sees in soccer.
The New York Times piece does contradict the Guardian a bit, with Rogers in that one saying that he doesn’t think soccer is homophobic. After that I was a bit confused, but the words of the Guardian linger. And unfortunately those are the words that are lingering in the media, with headlines in my Google Alerts often being about Rogers retiring from soccer because it is too homophobic for someone who has come out of the closet.
If Robbie Rogers doesn’t want to play because he needs time to get to know this new version of him, I get that. If Rogers doesn’t want to play because he doesn’t want to become the poster image for LGBT athletes, I get that. But if Rogers doesn’t want to play because of a perception that soccer, and specifically American soccer, has a homophobia issue, then that doesn’t fly well with me.
If Rogers has felt that way, then other players in his situation likely are feeling that way, and it doesn’t fly well with me because it’s a situation we can all do something about.
I feel emboldened to double down efforts in support of these players. Every supporters group should be taking a zero tolerance approach to homophobic words — in any language. Every club should be telling players that no matter their orientation, “You can play.” Every fan should pledge to have the back of any out player as they cheer him on from the stands. Every player should be doing everything he can to make sure the locker room is a place of welcome. Look for these efforts to expand in the months to come, but we can’t do it without all of your help. Keep an eye out for what you can do.
No player should feel afraid of who he is, and in revealing who he is to his teammates and fans. Today, let’s start working extra hard to eradicate that fear together.
Yes. I know things will change. There will be gay footballers. I just don’t know when and how long it will take. The next step is how do you create an atmosphere where men and women feel it’s OK to come out and continue to play? It’s a great question. Football has so much history. It’s a great sport with so much culture and tradition. But I’m positive there will be changes.