Robbie Rogers says he could come back to Major League Soccer this year. If he does, his return will give the league, its players and even its fans a chance to put into practice all the enlightened talk that surrounded his big announcement from just a few months ago.
And if that happens, then the real work can begin.
Rogers, a former Columbus Crew and U.S. national team midfielder who turns 26 next week, in February revealed on his website that he is gay. His announcement predated that of Jason Collins, and it coincided with Rogers' retirement from professional soccer after an injury-plagued spell with Leeds United in England.
It also produced a stream of positive reactions from the American soccer community, led by MLS commissioner Don Garber.
I am proud to be part of a sport that has been so supportive of @robbierogers. I admire his courage and hope he stays involved in the game.— Don Garber (@thesoccerdon) February 16, 2013
Said L.A. Galaxy center-back A.J. DeLaGarza (per LAGalaxy.com), who played with Rogers in college at Maryland: "He is one of the nicest kids that I've ever met. He's a great player and coming out is brave of him. To live like that for however long that he's known that has sure been tough, but he's happy now and we're all happy for him."
The collective reaction suggested the American soccer community is a progressive, forward-thinking group. That status was reinforced by a tweet from the Washington Post's Brian Straus and report from Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl, who found in an anonymous survey that 14 of 15 MLS players he interviewed would welcome a gay teammate in the locker room.
Now the hypothesis might be tested. Rogers on Sunday told the "Soccer Today" program on ESPN Radio in Dallas that he could see himself playing again professionally. Rogers said his change of heart came about after he saw video of himself training with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
"I just need a bit more time to evaluate and to see how things play out, but I've really enjoyed myself (in Galaxy training). It feels normal to be back. I've grown up playing soccer my whole life. I've always been on a soccer field, so I feel at home on a soccer field."
The key words here are "normal" and "home." If Rogers does come back, it will test, in a real-life environment, the positive, welcoming reactions from the American soccer community. Put simply, it will test whether MLS really is capable of viewing and treating Rogers as a normal player.
Regardless of one's personal or religious views about homosexuality, Rogers deserves to be accepted as a professional player on the sole condition that he is good enough to be on the pitch. Anonymous surveys of players suggest MLS and American soccer are ready to do so, but we'll only know when the situation plays out in real life.
If that happens, American soccer—maybe even all of American sports—can move to a new phase of this process, the part where announcements are no longer even necessary, or at least no longer a potentially harrowing process.
As former U.S. international defender Eddie Pope tweeted in February:
While that day remains in the future, for now, here in America, as soccer fans and human beings, we'll keep watching Rogers' situation with interest.