coming out and bowing out

Robbie Rogers

The cat’s out of the bag: Robbie Rogers is gay. Thanks to a middle-of-the-night personal blog posting last night, the former Columbus Crew wide man publicly announced that he is a homosexual and that he is retiring from professional football.

Robbie Rogers
cheers to you, robbie, for taking control of your life and living it the way you want to.

Of course, only one of those twin announcements will grab a majority of the headlines today and in the days to come. Understandably so, given the nearly non-existent number of professional players who are publicly out of the closet.

There have, in fact, only ever been two footballers prior to this point who have come out. Nottingham Forest’s Justin Fashanu was the first to do so in 1990, though he tragically committed suicide just eight years later after suffering unfathomable amounts of abuse. The only other comes from Swedish third-tier side Utsiktens, whose Anton Hysén revealed that he was gay in 2011. And while the Football League has indicated that they’ve spoken with up to eight other players in England who have admitted to being gay, none of them were willing to do so publicly. There are undoubtedly far more players out there that are gay, but are just too afraid of the backlash for admitting as much.

So Roger’s announcement about his sexuality is significant in that it’s a rare storyline in a sport that is regularly exposed to “shocking” headlines, and too that he’s a relatively high-profile player due to his nationality.

It also hit a bit close to home for me, as he was one of my favorite players on the Crew’s MLS Cup-winning side a few years back. Not because I ever cared about or debated his sexual preference before, but more just because it caught me off guard that he was suddenly done playing.

That’s not to say that I want to diminish the gravity of his proclamation either. It took an incredible amount of bravery for the Los Angelean to disclose that personal information, especially considering the often intolerant nature of his (now former) occupation.

But to me, the bigger news isn’t that Rogers is gay, but rather that he’s retiring from football.

I’d love to believe that this was a mutually exclusive set of decisions. I want to think that Robbie was worn out from playing, or that he wants to focus on his new fashion line. Perhaps he was simply disappointed that things hadn’t gone as well for him since making the jump across the pond to Leeds United? But if that were the case, you would think he would pine for a move back to MLS — though he also publicly expressed his disappointment that his MLS rights were recently sent to Chicago in the Dilly Duka-Dominic Oduro swap with Columbus. Aged just 25, Robbie still has loads left in his tank and is obviously a talented player. Had he found his feet again, it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of reality to think he could make a return to the national team set up.

Robbie Rogers
a life away from the game might be the easier option for rogers moving forward.

But with his decision to quit football cold turkey, it seems extremely likely that Rogers’ retirement is directly related to his coming out. And if that’s the case, I’m really curious to know why he chose to walk away now.

Maybe he has still grown tired of the daily grind and commitment necessary to play in the upper echelons of his sport. It’s clear from his message that the emotional toll of keeping his sexuality a secret has been severe, and perhaps he felt that he couldn’t fully focus on his duties to his club while also wrestling with the emotions that come with this kind of life decision. It’s possible that he didn’t want to deal with the abuse that would be hurled at him from the stands, not to mention fellow “professionals” on the pitch. There could have been worry that he wouldn’t have been accepted back by his own teammates after his announcement. And though he would have had the wonderful opportunity to be the rainbow-colored flag bearer for the gay community in soccer, maybe he didn’t want to deal with the weight of such responsibility.

Whether any of those — or possibly all of them — are the reason Rogers has chosen to step away, we won’t know until he decides it’s time to tell us more. And that may be never, which is his prerogative. He doesn’t owe us anything more. Whatever his reasons, I’m just sad that the conditions within the sport forced a player of his quality to leave the game.

Regardless, I’m happy for Robbie. Hopefully his decision brings him the peace he’s desired, and allows his to pursue dreams that might not have been possible prior to coming out. And if nothing else, it’s another notable mile post in the long road to social acceptance for a group of human beings that have long been subjected to unfair scorn from those too ignorant to see beyond themselves.

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