TUESDAY OCTOBER 17, 2017
 
Blog EGOS & ICONS
ROBBIE ROGERS: OUT & IN
RobbieRogers.jpg

Robbie Rogers had already found emancipation before Jason Collins came along. But just one day after the NBA player's recent groundbreaking admission of homosexuality, Rogers took his first step towards a career reclamation too, a path he wasn't sure he'd ever walk again.

That's good news because Rogers, the soccer star who Collins credited for having "blazed a trail" for gay athletes, is someone who might well be able to move the milestones on this issue a whole lot further down the road.

No disrespect to Collins, of course, for his courageous decision to open up in an article for Sports Illustrated, planting a significant signpost as the first active gay athlete in a major North American league. But in truth, Collins' career is winding down at age 34, and has never amounted to much. His character and dignity are surely worthy of Hall of Fame-level praise. His statistics, however, are not.

Rogers, meanwhile, is a 25-year-old U.S. international, a speedy attacker who's currently being courted by the two-time defending MLS champion LA Galaxy. In both a sporting sense and, if he chooses, a crusading one, he's got plenty left to give.

That much was clear when Rogers announced his premature retirement in February of this year, not long after parting ways with English team Leeds United. He did so by taking a deeply personal document, written in December and left on his laptop for several weeks, and posting it to his blog under the title 'The Next Chapter…'

He said he was stepping away from soccer to undo the 'internal damage' caused by a lifetime of living a lie. Honesty, he said, had finally brought him happiness, the freedom of acceptance from friends and, most importantly, his conservative, Catholic family. Although it didn't generate the same amount of headline news back home as Collins' April announcement, it was still something of a landmark: Rogers was the first British-based soccer star to reveal his homosexuality in more than 20 years.

While he's said he never closed the door on a return to soccer, Rogers admits he had no plans to resume playing again after returning home from London to reunite with his family in California. But watching video of his old performances made him realize how much he missed the game, and he accepted an invitation from Galaxy coach Bruce Arena to join the team for training, taking part in his first session on April 30, one day after Collins' came out.

Not surprisingly, Rogers was uncertain how he'd be received in the LA locker room, a fear no doubt exacerbated when San Jose Earthquakes player Alan Gordon was suspended three games in mid-April for using a gay slur against a Portland opponent. Happily, Rogers says everything has been "normal" in terms of his treatment, and he's enjoying being back on the pitch.

Rogers has publicly stated a desire to stay close to home in Southern California and disinterest in signing a contract with the Chicago Fire, who hold his MLS rights. But such is his promise and potential that the Fire have signalled they're not willing to let him go lightly, even flying their owner and team president out West to try and woo him to the Windy City.

What a change for Rogers. In less than three months, he's gone from tortured soul with a secret to in-demand athlete again, the prospect of his club career renewed and, who knows, maybe even another shot at international action at the next World Cup. In the movement to break down barriers and bring in an era of acceptance, that would be something special indeed.

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