Robbie Rogers: Another Step Toward Gay Acceptance in Sports

Craig Hutchinson@@CragHutchinsonContributor IIIFebruary 16, 2013

CARSON, CA - JANUARY 23:  Robbie Rogers #14 of USA paces the ball on the attack against Honduras during their international friendly match on January 23, 2010 in Carson, California. Honduras defeated USA 3-1.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Equality and acceptance for homosexuals has been a hot topic of discussions in all walks of life in recent years.

There's no debate that as a society we have grown to be more accepting of homosexuals in recent decades, yet we still see debates regarding gay marriage rights, inclusion in the Boy Scouts, conflicts with religion or acceptance in sports.

On the website of the world's governing body, FIFA, they estimate that there are around 265 million soccer players around the world. Despite this astronomical figure, the number of openly gay professional footballers is microscopic.

The first active player was Englishman Justin Fashanu who came out in 1990.

As a 9-year-old at the time I saw jokes in newspapers and magazines, including mock up pictures of him with woman's underwear, things that would not be accepted in mainstream media in today's standards.

Fashanu's story ultimately ended up a tragic one as he committed suicide eight years later after being accused of sexual assault by a 17-year-old boy.

It was not until 2011 that another professional footballer opened up on his homosexuality, Swedish Third Division player Anton Hysén.

Friday a third player was added to that list.

US International Robbie Rogers posted a heartfelt message on his blog titled "The Next Chapter" which announced that he was gay and was 'stepping away' from the game at the age of 25.


Since the announcement, support of Rogers' decision to come out has been commended by many high profile figures in the game, but what effect can this have on the gay community and with other homosexual players in the game still 'living in the closet'?

If Rogers wasn't stepping away from the game and continued to play in Major League Soccer (or indeed in England, where he used to play for Leeds United), the effect could be greater.

Staying in the public eye and in full view of thousands of spectators week after week would be able to show us a more accurate barometer of how gay players are accepted by the media, supporters, opposition players, their teammates, their managers and their owners.

In a survey of 100 professional soccer players in Britain by FourFourTwo magazine, they found that 62 percent of them 'disagree' or 'strongly disagree' that a gay player would be an outcast.

Sports News soccer writer Brian Straus tweeted that he thought most, if not all of Rogers' teammates in Columbus already knew he has gay.

These are positive signs for other gay players unsure whether it is 'safe' for them to come out publicly or to their teammates.

There is the other side to this too, where as recently as the buildup to the Super Bowl, San Francisco 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver created a media storm by saying that gay players would not be welcome in his locker room and they better "get up out of here" if they are gay.

After being vilified for his comments, Culliver apologized and retracted, but the comments may stay have left doubt to athletes debating whether is would be a good time to come out to their teammates.

In addition to how accepted a teammate would be in the locker room, there may be further difficulties for an openly gay athlete.

Former NBA star John Amaechi, an openly gay athlete, gave an interview with FourFourTwo magazine in which he said that there would not be an issue in the locker room, but the problem would lie with executives and the men who write the pay checks.

He even stated that his owners in Utah and Orlando had been very vocalized with anti-gay opinions.

Of course there are also the supporters.

Anti-gay chats continue to be heard around the world toward players that aren't even gay. Would this be intensified toward an opposition player who was?

One thing is for sure, when there is an openly gay player actively playing in one of the worlds top soccer leagues, there's no way he would be subject to the same abuse that Jackie Robinson when he became the first African American to cross racial barriers and break them down for generations of black athletes who followed.

The gay community and other gay footballers may be seeking that high profile player to lead the way and test the waters of how accepted they will be while playing in the highest levels of the sport.

But for now Rogers' courageous decision to come out and the support he has received is a positive step toward equality and acceptance of homosexuality in soccer.

And at 25 years old, there is still opportunity for his to return to the sport and make an even bigger impact than he ever thought was possible.


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