On Friday former US Men's National Team member and Columbus Crew winger Robbie Rogers announced on his personal blog he was stepping away from soccer at the age of 25. He also publicly said that he was gay. After winning the MLS Cup with Columbus in 2008 and making the MLS Best XI, then making 18 appearances with the USMNT, Rogers moved to England and Championship side Leeds United. His time in England was marred by injury though and Rogers and Leeds United parted ways earlier this year.
Former athletes coming out publicly is indeed quite rare, but has happened before. Rogers' blog post drew admiration for its honesty and bravery, the intensity of his testimony, but also the fact that he should be in his athletic prime at such a young age. The overwhelming support came from all over the sports world. Soccer writers, bloggers, and commentators were unanimous in their respect for Rogers' announcement as the support for accepting gay athletes has certainly hit the mainstream. Let's face it, sports is still well behind greater society as far as LGBT issues go. Campaigns like "You Can Play" and increased advocacy from media and athletes have made a difference, but there's still work to be done.
The most striking element of the reaction to Robbie Rogers' announcement wasn't the amount of media support or the number of athletes from around the sports world speaking out - it was the statements from within the soccer community as MLS teams and US Soccer showed their respect for his decision to come out.
The official Seattle Sounders Youtube channel released a video from coaches and players (including Rogers' former Columbus Crew coach Sigi Schmid) lauding Rogers' courage and offering their support.
LA Galaxy posted a blog entry with comments from players...
The official MLS website collected a number of supportive tweets from current and former MLS players. MLS commish Don Garber also tweeted this message...
I am proud to be part of a sport that has been so supportive of @robbierogers. I admire his courage and hope he stays involved in the game.— Don Garber (@thesoccerdon) February 16, 2013
And US Soccer shared their own statement of encouragement...
Statement on @robbierogers: “As a Federation we support all our athletes who have had the courage to address this deeply personal topic."— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) February 16, 2013
.@ussoccer statement contd: "We are proud of Robbie. He has been an outstanding representative of our National Team program for many years."— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) February 16, 2013
"...We support him and wish him great success in the future."— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) February 16, 2013
It's one thing for the media to support an athlete coming out - it's quite another for that support to come from within the sport at the highest levels. That's my biggest takeaway from the Robbie Rogers announcement yesterday. MLS has certainly been a leading figure in the fight for acceptance for gay athletes, breaking new ground by partnering with the You Can Play campaign. It's only a matter of time before we see openly gay professional athletes in American team sports.
Yesterday's support for Robbie Rogers showed MLS and US soccer are ready to be the first.
I can't imagine how hard his decision must have been. However, I would have more respect for his announcement if it wasn't seemingly tied to his retirement- still not the same impact as an active player making the same announcement. It almost seems as if Rogers is running from something...
@awfulannouncing Better 2 say soccer's ready 4 an openly gay male athlete: 1.Gays have alwz bn in pro sports(2no ill effectAFAIK) 2. @mPinoe
@awfulannouncing After watching a black player walk off because of racism I'll have to respectfully disagree. #ignoranceisaliveandwell
@awfulannouncing Disagree completely. It shows people on social media are. Much of Europe is not ready for black players.
@awfulannouncing i get the impression any pro athelete would get support, just depends how loud the minority would be.