Robbie Rogers Is Brave, but Players' Sexuality Is None of Our Business

Ryan Bailey@ryanjaybaileyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2013

MILTON KEYNES, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20:  Robbie Rogers of Stevenage in action during the npower League One match between MK Dons and Stevenage at stadium:mk on October 20, 2012 in Milton Keynes, England.  (Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images)
Pete Norton/Getty Images

For eight years, Robbie Rogers has been carving a professional soccer career that has taken him from his native California to Holland, and then to the English Football League, via a lengthy spell in MLS with the Columbus Crew.

When I met the 25-year-old at a charity event organised by L.A. Lakers basketball player Steve Nash last summer, he seemed amiable, vivacious and comfortable in his own skin, despite having endured an injury-blighted season with Leeds.

Rogers was, however, hiding a secret that was, in his own words, prohibiting him from "truly enjoying life."

In a statement released via his website last week, the winger—who was released by Leeds in January—admitted he was gay. He gave an insight to the anguish his sexuality had caused him:

For the past 25 years I have been afraid, afraid to show whom I really was because of fear. Fear that judgment and rejection would hold me back from my dreams and aspirations. Fear that my loved ones would be farthest from me if they knew my secret. Fear that my secret would get in the way of my dreams.

In light of the the perceived homophobic nature of the beautiful game, there is no question that Rogers has made a brave decision, and one for which he should be commended.

Of approximately 5,000 professional footballers playing in Britain, the American is the only one to have admitted he is gay. Based on statistics that suggest one in 100 people in the UK are openly gay or lesbian (one in 200 bisexual), the numbers don't add up.

And since Justin Fashanu, only a Swedish third-division player has come out while playing.

The stigma of homosexuality in football is not helped by the tragic legacy left by the only other footballer to ever come out as gay in Britain, Justin Fashanu—the younger brother of Wimbledon hard man John.

After transferring from Norwich to Nottingham Forest in 1981—becoming the first black player to command a £1 million transfer fee—rumors of Justin's true sexuality were rife. His confidence was soon shot as a result of the criticism, thanks in no small part to the man who should have supported him: his manager Brian Clough.

After becoming embroiled in a sexual assault scandal, and having lived with the blemish of being the only "out" footballer for eight years after formally coming out in 1990, Justin committed suicide in 1998.

Since he passed, attitudes toward homosexuality in the game have not progressed as quickly as those toward racism. Antonio Cassano, for example, was admonished after Euro 2012 for finding it appropriate to tell reporters he hoped there were no "queers" in the squad.

Sol Campbell is one of a number of players who have suffered abuse from fans, despite giving no indication that he is actually gay.

Even Justin's big brother John recently opened up about his disapproval of his brother's lifestyle, controversially claiming he simply wanted attention.

The only people in the game to have spoken out in support of gay footballers have been a select few straight footballers. Anders Lindegaard says gay footballers "need a hero" in the sport. West Ham's Matt Jarvis recently appeared on the cover of the gay magazine Attitude, insisting that if more players were to come out in the game, it would not be a problem.

And the truth is, at the majority of clubs, it would not be a problem.

Most players would be unfazed by a colleague's announcement of a gay lifestyle. After all, to protest a homosexual in a male football team on account of their sexual persuasion is virtually the equivalent of protesting heterosexual male and female colleagues working in an office together. It would be absurd.

In the women's game, gay players have been embraced without stigma. Just last year, USWNT midfielder Megan Rapinoe came out, saying that "It's about standing up and being counted and saying you're proud of who you are."

Yet the problem is not necessarily with colleagues, but fans. If an openly gay player was having a bad game on an away trip, one could only imagine the abhorrent abuse he would receive from certain unenlightened factions of supporters. Homophobic chanting, unfortunately, is not yet as socially unacceptable as racist chanting.

Clearly, the issue of whether players should come out can be debated until the cows come home, yet the issue itself raises an extremely poignant question: Why on earth should we care who is gay?

Statistically, there must be more gay footballers out there, but they are in no way impugned to come out. And we have no right to be concerned with such issues.

Why should anyone have to declare their sexuality? Do heterosexual players feel compelled to explain their lifestyle choices? In how many other industries is such an importance placed on sexual preference?

A greater number of "out" players would certainly help slay the dragon named Bigotry in the game, but no one should feel pressured to be transparent about their sexuality if they do not want to.

It is a sad indictment of society that Rogers felt afraid of revealing his lifestyle for fear of jeopardising his career. It is sad too that the debate of gay footballers is so significant (and in making that statement, I realise the irony of writing about it).

If Rogers retired specifically because of his announcement—and not any other issues pertaining to injuries or personal matters—that too is sad, and a reflection of the unnecessary weight placed on sexuality.

Gay footballers should not feel ashamed of revealing their preferences, and neither should they feel they must do so. After all, it is absolutely no one else's business.


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