Not everyone intends on making history. It probably wasn’t in the Dalai Lama‘s plans. Nor did Robbie Rogers probably intend to when he retired from professional soccer at just 25 years old this February. Rogers was just one of the most promising young American soccer players, playing in Leeds in Europe. Also Rogers is gay. He bravely revealed this in an articulate letter (Found Here) he released in February.
Regardless of how you personally feel that sexual orientation is determined, Robbie Rogers is gay. It’s as much a fact that Robbie Rogers is a member of the LA Galaxy.
It was announced Saturday afternoon that Robbie Rogers is the newest member of the LA Galaxy. The Galaxy held a press conference on Saturday afternoon, which was held simultaneously during the Champions League Final in London–the biggest stage in international soccer (perhaps only second to the World Cup). The plan seemed ill conceived. A room of soccer players, managers, executives, and reporters meeting to stage the press conference at the same time. Intentionally or not, it signifies Robbie Rogers’ comeback with the LA Galaxy is something much bigger than the result of a game, whether Rogers intended to or not.
He has been quoted as saying he doesn’t want to be known as ‘Robbie Rogers, the gay soccer player.’ He’s entitled to that feeling on all levels. He’ll face pressure to be a role model as a promising player regardless of whether he is an active advocate for gay athletes. Rogers said Saturday “As a professional there is always pressure.” But what motivated him to bring him back from retirement is the love he had for playing soccer. And it is the on the field pressure he seems most eager to address.
I know I am motivated to prove myself. I want to be better than I was before. I want to prove to everyone in this room, in this world, that I am a great footballer, a great soccer player. It does not matter that I’m gay.
He is out to prove he is not just a gay soccer player. Or perhaps prove that he’s more than the first openly gay professional athlete; He is the first successful athlete who is also openly gay. The difference is in a misguided comparison. He does not want to be Anna Kournikova, known for her looks and not her tennis accomplishments. The bio should read: Robbie Rogers–Team USA starting midfielder, who is also openly gay.
There is no doubt that Robbie Rogers brings skill and pace and talent to the Galaxy lineup. Bruce Arenas was quick to compliment in detail the type of player the squad was getting, especially in the wake of losing Mike Magee whom the Galaxy traded to Chicago for the right of first refusal for Rogers. In reference to the impact Rogers will have Arenas was realistic. “He’s been out for 5 months. . .[There's] no great expectations in the early going.”
Bruce Arenas and the LA Galaxy organization’s expectations are modest in the short term, but there are huge expectations on Rogers going forward. He may want to focus on soccer, but Rogers is in a position to be much more for soccer, sports, and culture more generally than even David Beckham was. Beckham was hugely famous already. Beckham’s move was more like going into the closet when he moved to the much less popular and respected league in the US. He was supposed to make soccer big in the United States, and his efforts were not a failure on that front. But Rogers is on the forefront of a cultural revolution of acceptance that is (or might still be) long fought, and hard fought. Comments like the 49ers Chris Culliver’s breed intolerance, but they do speed up the revolution. And as a LA native, Rogers will have local familial and friends’ support to strengthen his resolve.
Rogers admitted that loving the game wasn’t the only reason he came back. After speaking to a group of young athletes at a LGBT Nike summit he admitted later he felt like a coward. Whether he did it actively everyday or not, he is in a position to step up, and as he said, he knew “[I] gotta man up a little bit.”
It’s an interesting expression to use in the situation from a traditional gender roles perspective. But it’s an honest description of the responsibility and accountability he feels as both a gay man, and an outstanding professional athlete. MLS, and Real Salt Lake for example, may not grow their fandom and sports fans’ knowledge of the Western Conference Standings because of Rogers. But he raises the profile of the league in the public’s eye to a level of scrutiny that can only bring more (positive) change. And change is better than the unofficial don’t ask don’t tell policy.