warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Robbie Rogers' Coming Out Giant Step For Pro Sports

Will Robinson |
February 15, 2013 | 5:01 p.m. PST

Senior Sports Editor

Rogers' bold admission was a huge move in the American pro sports picture. (Longbomb/Wikimedia Commons)
Rogers' bold admission was a huge move in the American pro sports picture. (Longbomb/Wikimedia Commons)
Robbie Rogers was barely known to the average American sports fan before today. The former MLS player was a member of the Columbus Crew’s 2008 MLS Cup-winning squad before moving to England’s Leeds United. He and the club mutually agreed to his release about a month ago. Though MLS and soccer’s popularity has and will continue to increase, a random person would likely only tell you that David Beckham played here. Robbie Rogers probably lived a very average life, despite his day job probably being cooler than yours.

But none of that matters in the wake of Rogers’ startlingly honest blog entry, in which he bravely disclosed that he is gay. On Twitter, he shared the link with the tweet “Just getting some sh*t off my chest,” in what many would assume it would be some frustrated declaration, not the sharing of the most private secret one could possess. In a world where that personal attribute has been demonized and antagonized – sports – Rogers took a stand by sharing his voice when it must have been incredibly difficult to do so.

In doing so, he decided to “step away” from soccer to “discover (his self) away from football.” He was an average player who had a fair shake at a national team spot by coach Jürgen Klinsmann, earning five caps in 2011. He scored the equalizer against Mexico in a friendly that year. But that's all minimized, as a player in his prime consciously, purposely ended his career for something much more important.

Rogers wistfully asserts on his blog, “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.”

Most of us cannot begin to empathize with Rogers. Frankly, most of us will never truly be able to. There are so few professional athletes in the country and the world. Compounded with the amount of lesbian and gay Americans – barely two percent – the cross section Rogers represents is a crushing minority. Similarly, fellow soccer player David Testo came out in November 2011 as an active player. He has yet to play professionally since.

While the sporting world has certainly had its fair share of athletes come out, the male ones have largely occurred after a playing career concluded. The machismo stigma that is omnipresent in professional sports prohibits and discourages the repealing of the de facto “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, a policy that an equally testosterone-fueled field, the military, banned due to its antiquated, discriminatory nature.

John Amaechi is a name that comes to mind when considering gay professional athletes, as he became the first former NBA player to come out. The journeyman came out four years after his career ended in 2003 and has since become the modern face of gay athletes in sports. He gained a celebrity that eluded him in his playing career, as many players who average 6.2 points per game and 2.6 boards per game are relatively insignificant. But now, his fame now opposed to the fame derived from his playing days far exceeds that past.

American society has been waiting for a high-profile athlete to come out amidst their playing career – or even after. While Rogers the athlete is a relative unknown, his decision now will forever define him. If he truly never plays soccer for a professional club again, he may be known as the “soccer player who retired because he was gay,” which, with as much as we know now, is entirely false, unfair and degrading. Rogers wishes to explore his life beyond what has defined him up until today: his ability on the pitch.

While this story has received a fair amount of attention, it did not draw the massive eyes it should have. For instance, it was the fifth story on the right side of ESPN’s home page. Rogers sacrificed his career and public perception by making his sexuality public. Though he can certainly return and some fans will accept him, others surely won’t. If race is still a giant issue in the football world, which it undeniably is, odds are homophobia is, too.

He ends with an uplifting few sentences, “It’s 1 A.M. in London as I write this and I could not be happier with my decision. Life is so full of amazing things. I realized I could only truly enjoy my life once I was honest. Honesty is a bitch but makes life so simple and clear. My secret is gone, I am a free man, I can move on and live my life as my creator intended.”

Likely, this will unjustly leave the American sports fan consciousness quickly. When’s the last time something like this has happened? Has it ever? Hopefully, this will further cultivate the era of acceptance in sports, despite Chris Culliver’s opinions. Hopefully, this will spur closeted athletes in believing they do not have to hide who they are. Most of all, hopefully Rogers will finally achieve the peace of mind everyone deserves but some struggle to attain.

Reach Senior Sports Editor Will Robinson here. Follow him here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.