(Foreward: This weekend I was asked by a soccer podcast that was recording at the HDC what I thought about potentially being the first team to have a gay player suit up for them. There is so much more to Robbie Rogers than being a homosexual, and I certainly don’t want to minimize every other aspect about him, but for the sake of this piece we’re sticking specifically to what it means to have a “gay player” on the LA Galaxy.)
I remember sitting in section 138 with the rest of my LARSers watching Robbie Rogers and the Columbus Crew defeat the New York Red Bulls in the 2008 MLS Cup Final. It’s always painful to watch another team celebrate a title in your building, but what are ya going to do? I, like many MLS fans, was impressed with Columbus’ young winger. A few years have passed and it now looks like that impressive young winger might be pulling on our world-famous white top. But “Robbie Rogers to the LA Galaxy” isn’t as simple as it once would’ve been. Now that Robbie has come out as a homosexual, he is a groundbreaking individual who looks to be the first openly gay player to suit up in a major US sport.
But before all that let’s look into Robbie as a player…
Robbie Rogers is a proper, pure left winger. Not a center midfielder playing wide and oft-cutting inside (like a certain LA Galaxy player with the initials M.S.), not a forward taking years and goals off his records by “being a team player” and playing left midfield, not a right back inspiring pundits to call for his trade because he’s playing out of position. But a real “hug-the-touchline” winger. Exactly what the LA Galaxy needs.
Rogers’ first foray into professional football began with a successful three-week trial that blossomed into a two-year contract with Dutch Eredivisie side Heerenveen. Disappointingly for Robbie, he made numerous reserve league appearances but never managed to crack the first team. Five months after signing his deal with Heerenveen both parties split by mutual consent.
Columbus won a special Draft Lottery (Oh MLS and its silly rules) for Robbie’s rights and signed him in March of 2007. Rogers went on to play for Columbus for five years until US Men’s National Team manager Jurgen Klinsmann vouched for Robbie with then-Leeds United manager Simon Grayson which was enough to get Rogers a two-week trial. Robbie did enough to earn himself a contract, was eventually granted a work permit (he hadn’t played 75% of USA’s games for the year which is necessary to automatically receive a work permit in England) and signed for Leeds United, making his debut February 18th 2012.
Unfortunately for Robbie, he suffered a head injury in his debut for Leeds and was out for a few weeks. A week after returning from his head injury he suffered an ankle injury that ended his 2012 campaign. Rogers eventually trained with the Galaxy for two weeks, sparking speculation that the Galaxy was set to make a move for him, but he ended up returning to Leeds in July to get their preseason underway. Eventually Robbie was loaned to Stevange, which was at the time being managed by former Colorado Rapids manager Gary Smith. Sadly his time at Stevenage was hit by injuries as well, and when Robbie eventually returned to Leeds during the January transfer window it was announced that he and Leeds were splitting by mutual consent and he was available on a free transfer.
One month later he retired from football and came out via his blog as a homosexual. Rogers was the first professional soccer player based in Britain to come out since Justin Fashanu in 1990.
Now for the “Groundbreaking”…
One thing we always say in the LA Riot Squad is that any individual is allowed to say whatever they want, but they never speak “for the group”. You represent yourself, you do not represent LARS. Especially on so-called “controversial” issues. Well, and I might get in trouble for this later, but I AM going to speak for my group. It would be an honor to have Robbie Rogers wear our crest.
The courage it takes to be an athlete in this country and come out of the closet is immense and utterly commendable. Some thought it was strange to come and and retire in one fell swoop but you have to try and understand where he was coming from. Many Americans struggle to live their open life when it’s just them and their loved ones. In writing this I’ve tried to put myself in his shoes and think what it must be like to tell 300 million people, “This is what I’ve been keeping to myself all these years,” and it’s terrible to think of how lonely he must’ve felt at times. It’s great to hear that his family and friends knew and accepted him for who he was.
I hope this is the first step, of many, to stamp out homophobia and homophobic slurs in MLS. Once Team LARS or the LARS National Team, or whatever they’re calling them now, played against another unnamed supporters group. After a penalty was awarded and converted, one of the females from that supporters group yelled, “You f—— faggot!” at our penalty taker. I hope this is the first of many steps in teaching that young lady that that is unacceptable.
It seems every few months a player is being suspended for calling someone a homophobic slur. From former LA Galaxy player Alan Gordon to current LA Galaxy player Colin Clark. The former yelled it to a player and the latter to a ball boy. A ball boy. I’m not sure Robbie intended to be as groundbreaking as I hope he will be. I’m sure he just wants to be another footballer chasing his dream. But having been to stadiums around the league on various away trips and hearing how fans speak using slurs that are deplorable, I’m hoping this is the first step among many to stem and eventually eliminate that type of speech.
In 20 years, when an athlete’s sexual orientation is not worthy of an editorial piece because it will be accepted as commonplace or personal and unimportant to their job, it will be an honor to know that our proud club was first to break the mold.
When I can sit my son down and tell him how his baseball team fielded the first African-American player and how his soccer team fielded the first openly gay player, and how he should be equally proud of both.
I spoke to a friend of mine, Tommy McCall, the LA Correspondent for Gay4Soccer.com for what he thought about the history being made and he said, “…even Becks doesn’t compare to the signing of Rogers and how it will be looked upon favorably by history; to have Los Angeles’ name indelibly inked next to ‘broke the taboo of gays in soccer’ is one of the greatest and strongest legacies worth having.”
I’m proud of the outpouring of love and support that was directed at him in the aftermath of his blog post. I was proud to be a part of a league and a country that welcomed someone demanding to be accepted for who he is. I’m sure it was around, as there are many knuckleheads in anything you follow, but I didn’t see one negative comment directed to Robbie or about him. Not so much as a joke; and that made me damn proud.
If we do sign Robbie (and it looks more and more likely every day) I can say as an LA Galaxy season ticket holder, a leader of the LA Riot Squad, and a diehard MLS supporter, I will be damn proud of the progress we’re making in the entire sports landscape.
If by some chance this graces Robbie Rogers’ eyes someday I’d like him to know this:
I’m proud of you Robbie. We, as a supporters group, as a club, a league, as a Federation, as a nation and as a people are damn proud of you. We stand with you.
Now go win me an MLS Cup.
Please leave opinions, comments and questions in the comments below.
Special thanks to Tommy McCall for contributing.