KISSIMMEE, Fla. – In his blog post, Robbie Rogers said his decision to publicly come out as gay had relieved a weight from his shoulders. What he did not say, or perhaps realize, is that he has likely done the same for a number of other athletes.
"On your fingers and toes you could probably count the number of retired professional athletes who have come out," said Patrick Burke, president of You Can Play, a campaign dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports. "For Robbie to do it is a big step for him. We hope it turns out positively and takes some of the pressure off of him and hopefully he'll be healthy enough and keep playing and play at a high level."
KISSIMMEE, Fla. – In his now-famous blog post, Robbie Rogers said his decision to publicly come out as gay had relieved a weight from his shoulders. What he did not say, or perhaps realize, is that he has likely done the same for a number of other athletes.
“On your fingers and toes you could probably count the number of retired professional athletes who have come out,” said Patrick Burke, president of You Can Play, a campaign dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports. “For Robbie to do it is a big step for him. We hope it turns out positively and takes some of the pressure off of him and hopefully he’ll be healthy enough and keep playing and play at a high level.”
Rogers also announced that he was stepping away from the game of soccer, and it is not clear if or when he might return. Bob Vitale, editor-in-chief for Outlook Magazine in Columbus, said that although acceptance of gay people is growing, the world of sports can make things more difficult for athletes struggling to come out.
“It obviously must be (tougher in athletics) because if it weren’t, people would have come out long before now,” he said. “I don’t know. It just must get into the whole issue of stereotypes about masculinity and sexuality and all those things. It must be a little more difficult in that atmosphere.”
Burke said athletes he has spoken with who have come out have said the hardest part lies in the process. Once the truth is out, he said, life becomes easier.
The news caught former teammate and friend Kevin Burns unawares but not surprised.
“I guess the only thing I can say on the matter is awesome for him, you know?” he said. “Robbie Rogers is such an awesome guy, and it really does not bother me or anyone I know that’s close to him. We all think of him as a tremendous player but a better friend.”
As the day unfolded, tributes poured in from around the world. Former teammates from Leeds United expressed their support and surprise, members of the United States national team wished him the best and the Seattle Sounders – including head coach Sigi Schmidt, who was Rogers’ coach when the Crew won the 2008 MLS Cup – even posted a video on YouTube showing their support for Rogers.
In a statement, The Football Association said it fully backs Rogers and hopes his decision to come out did not lead to his retirement.
Said Darren Bailey, director of football governance and regulation: “Following the announcement by Robbie Rogers on Friday, the FA is trying to make contact with him offering our support. Whether Robbie stays in the game or steps away for a break he has our full backing.”
After his club acquired Rogers’ MLS rights from the Crew two weeks ago, Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas said in a statement, “Yesterday, I thought he was a very good player and I still think that today. Should Robbie want to return to the game, we would still be open to him being part of the Fire.”
The Crew issued the following statement: “Robbie Rogers was a valuable member of the Columbus Crew and a dedicated community ambassador during his time with the club. The organization wishes him every success in his future pursuits.”
It all led Rogers to tweet, “Thank you everyone for all of the support and love. Wasn’t expecting this.”
Goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum, one of four players left on the 2008 Crew team that won MLS Cup with Rogers as a key member, said if Rogers’ career is indeed complete he feels Crew fans will remember him most for bringing a championship to Columbus.
“He was a pivotal part of that team that year,” Gruenebaum said. “It’s the only championship in franchise history so that’s all you can really remember him for. Off the field, he was a big part of the community. You could see him probably flying down on his skateboard with (Steven) Lenhart or something. I think everybody just loved him. I’m sure everyone would say the same thing: we wish him the best, and if he ever called me for anything I wouldn’t hesitate (to help).”