Robbie Rogers in a US match against Grenada. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
“There’s a lot to be excited about. It’s awesome to be part of a movement that is changing our society.”
On Saturday one of the most depressing sports stories of the last year became one of the most inspiring when Robbie Rogers announced that he would be signing with Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy. In February, the 25-year-old soccer star told the world in the same breath that he was gay and he was retiring. “I wouldn’t want to deal with the circus,” he said. “Are people coming to see you because you’re gay? Would I want to do interviews every day, where people are asking: ‘So you’re taking showers with guys—how’s that?… [Expletive] it. I don’t want to mess with that.”
It was an understandable but tragic surrender to the anti-gay bigotry that has historically defined professional sports from the stands, to the locker room, to the front office. Now Robbie Rogers is done surrendering. He’s returning to the sport and doing it with the unbridled joy of George Costanza, saying, “I’m back, baby!”
Yes, Robbie Rogers has officially un-retired and will become the first openly gay male North American athlete to take the field in one of the “big five” sports. Playing alongside superstar and friend Landon Donovan, and coached by former USA men’s national soccer team helmsman Bruce Arena, Rogers’s return is a testament to how much has changed since NBA player Jason Collins came out last month. Rogers saw how much support Collins received and was moved from his previous pessimism that he would never be accepted. His compunction to return was cemented after speaking at an LGBT youth forum to 500 kids.
“I seriously felt like a coward,” he told USA Today. “These kids are standing up for themselves and changing the world, and I’m 25, I have a platform and a voice to be a role model. How much of a coward was I to not step up to the plate?”
After deciding to come back, Rogers realized that the greatest obstacle was his own trepidation. “I don’t know what I was so afraid of,” he reflected. “It’s been such a positive experience for me. The one thing I’ve learned from all of this is being gay is not that big of a deal to people…. I think as the younger get older and the generations come and go, I think times are just becoming more accepting.”