At age 30 Robbie Rogers has certainly accomplished a lot in his career as a professional soccer player – he’s traveled the world to play, played on Team USA at the Olympics and had professional contracts that have led to TV shows, modeling gigs and books. What many people may not fully realize is that Robbie Rogers is also the first male to play for a professional sports league in the U.S. as an openly gay man.
Rogers came out as gay in February of 2013 during a brief retirement from the sport. Living and playing in London for pro soccer team Leeds United, he retired ultimately because he knew he had to acknowledge that he was gay in order to live his life authentically. With his conservative upbringing, Robbie feared the worst but knew he couldn’t move forward with his life while holding such a secret.
Filled with fear and anxiety about dealing with the impending storm that awaited him, especially from his conservative Christian family, Rogers felt that retirement was the best option to handle his coming out announcement. Many athletes before him had to face hostile reactions to their coming out, including the U.K.’s first openly gay football (soccer) player Justin Fashanu who came out in 1990 and sadly, committed suicide in 1998.
While his sexuality didn’t affect his abilities as an athlete, the pressure of living life with such a secret certainly did. Only a few short weeks from his last game Rogers posted this to his website: “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. … Life is simple when your secret is gone. 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.”
Coming out just two months before the NBA’s Jason Collins, Rogers actually expected the coming out stories of two professional athletes to start a domino effect, having lots of pro players in various sports do the same. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, but as a result of that outpouring of positive responses, in May 2013 Rogers signed a contract with the U.S. professional soccer team, the LA Galaxy. While Rogers had come out after he retired from Leeds, in April Collins came out while still an active player although unsigned at the time. Collins was also hired by another NBA team shortly after Rogers began playing.
Rogers has become a voice in professional soccer, an advocate fighting homophobia from outside and within the sport. He has become an ambassador for #ProudToPlay, joining with Jason Collins, Michael Sam, Kobe Bryant and other professional athletes to promote acceptance and inclusion for all within sport. He also has publicly called out FIFA on their choices for hosting soccer’s World Cup in prominently homophobic countries, e.g., Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.
Rogers continues to enjoy a successful career with the LA Galaxy. He is also the co-owner of the men’s fashion company “Hampton + Baker” and the producer of “Men In Shorts” and “My Policeman.” He’s also the face of Target’s new ad campaign for their recently launched clothing line, Goodfellow & Co. And on a personal note, Rogers and his fiancé, TV producer Greg Berlanti live in southern California with their son Caleb who was born in 2016 via a surrogate.
Robbie Rogers has shown the world that a gay man can be a successful professional athlete, a powerful advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and a loving family man, all at the same time. He’s a positive and powerful role model for millennials to emulate!
By Dirk Smith
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