If Robbie Rogers looked cool and collected when he was brought on that August night in 2011, perhaps it was because nothing could cause more pressure than the secret he’d been keeping his entire life.
Then a midfielder with the Columbus Crew, Rogers was the hero of the first match of America’s Jurgen Klinsmann era, when he got his right foot on a pass across the face of the goal to force a 1-1 draw with Mexico.
Eighteen months later, the 25-year-old Rogers again deserves praise as he came out Friday as a gay man and announced he was stepping away from soccer.
"Life is simple when your secret is gone," Rogers wrote in a brief but powerful post on his official website. "Gone is the pain that lurks in the stomach at work, the pain from avoiding questions, and at last the pain from hiding such a deep secret.
"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."
With that, a promising American international who had spent the past two seasons playing in England, announced he was stepping away from soccer in the prime of his life.
"It’s time to discover myself away from football," he wrote.
The reaction to Rogers’ announcement from fellow players was overwhelmingly positive.
ESPN analyst and former player Taylor Twellman tweeted words of support. Sporting Kansas City’s Benny Feilhaber wrote to Rogers saying, "Proud to call you my friend."
Indeed, Major League Soccer and soccer in general has worked hard to crack down on bigotry in all its forms.
When Kevin-Prince Boateng and AC Milan were subject to racial taunts in a match earlier this year, the Italian side walked off the field in protest. And in last year’s playoffs, MLS handed down a three-game suspension and fine, along with ordering sensitivity training, for Seattle’s Marc Burch after he used a homophobic slur against then-RSL midfielder Will Johnson. The penalty was much more severe than what you would expect to see from other professional leagues in America.
But that Rogers’ announcement was breaking news across the globe showed, in some ways, that there is still a long way to go, both in and out of the locker room.
That will change in time, thanks in part to Rogers’ courage.
As former RSL defender Eddie Pope wrote to the young man on Twitter: "Brave men like you will make it so that one day there’s no need for an announcement. That day can’t arrive soon enough."
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