Examining Robbie Rogers' Impact on the American Sports Culture

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistFebruary 15, 2015

May 26, 2013; Carson, CA, USA; Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Robbie Rogers (14) speaks to media following his debut with the Galaxy against the Seattle Sounders at Home Depot Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Two years ago, Robbie Rogers published a post on his personal blog in which he announced his coming out. 

In the 24 months since his announcement, Rogers has left a profound impact on the American sporting culture, and he has turned himself into one of the more reliable players on one of the best sides in Major League Soccer. 

By inspiring others to come out as gay and using the game of soccer as a positive platform, Rogers has become one of the most recognizable faces in the American game for all of the right reasons. 

When he made his announcement, Rogers was a free agent after he spent time in the lower tiers of English football. He decided to retire from the game in his blog post following his release from Leeds United.

"Now is my time to step away. It's time to discover myself away from football. It's 1 a.m. in London as I write this and I could not be happier with my decision. Life is so full of amazing things. I realized I could only truly enjoy my life once I was honest. Honesty is a bitch but makes life so simple and clear. My secret is gone, I am a free man, I can move on and live my life as my creator intended." 

After four months away from the game, Rogers chose to come back to Major League Soccer and continue the career that earned him 18 caps for the United States men's national team. 

TORONTO - JULY 14:  Robbie Rogers #8 of Team USA brings in the ball against Team Austria during their FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007 quarterfinal game at National Soccer Stadium on July 14, 2007 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Austria won 2-1. (Photo by Dav
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Rogers began training with the L.A. Galaxy at the beginning of May of 2013, and a few weeks later he became a permanent member of the squad thanks to a trade with the Chicago Fire. 

Acquiring Rogers was not an task for the Galaxy, as the club had to send Mike Magee to Chicago in exchange for Rogers' rights. 

The deal appeared to be of the one-sided variety at the time because Magee was a proven asset with the Galaxy, while no one knew what Rogers could contribute. Magee went on to score 15 goals for the Fire after netting six for the Galaxy in 10 matches. 

Two days after the trade, Rogers debuted for the Galaxy in a match against the Seattle Sounders. In the moments leading up to his first MLS appearance since 2011, the crowd at the StubHub Center began to give him a standing ovation. 

When he entered the pitch for Juninho in the 77th minute, Rogers became the first openly gay athlete to play in a top sports league in North America. 

May 26, 2013; Carson, CA, USA; Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Robbie Rogers (14) greets midfielder Juninho (19) before coming onto the field against the Seattle Sounders during the second half at Home Depot Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TOD

After all the attention from his first appearance died down, Rogers had to get to work to earn a consistent spot in the competitive Galaxy lineup. He started just seven games and played four additional matches as a substitute in his first season back in MLS. 

With many questioning the high price the Galaxy paid for Rogers in 2013, the player did have some pressure on his shoulders to succeed in 2014. What happened next was something no one saw coming. 

Starting in June, the midfielder was shifted to left-back by Galaxy boss Bruce Arena, who was short of players at the position. After a few games on the left defensive flank, Rogers had installed himself as the permanent starter at left-back. 

Dec 7, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Robbie Rogers (14) battles for the ball with New England Revolution midfielder Jermaine Jones (13) in the second half during the 2014 MLS Cup final at Stubhub Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne

He was in such good form that many thought he was deserving of a call-up to the United States men's national team. That has not come as of yet, but there is a strong possibility he could feature at the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup if his form from last season holds up.

Rogers and the Galaxy went on to win the 2014 MLS Cup, which was the third in four years for the franchise. By winning the trophy, Rogers also became the first openly gay athlete to win a major American sports trophy. 

But by the time he lifted MLS Cup with his teammates, Rogers was labeled more as a shutdown defender on the pitch than the player who came out 22 months prior. 

Rogers not only made an impact on the soccer field, he also paved the way for other athletes to share their stories and feel comfortable about coming out. 

Since his announcement in 2013, NBA player Jason Collins and NFL prospect Michael Sam have come out as gay to the American public. 

Collins did so in 2013 during a piece he wrote for Sports Illustrated in which he credited many, including Rogers, with helping him make his decision public. 

Chris Pizzello/Associated Press

At the time his article was published, Collins was a free agent just like Rogers. Following his announcement, Collins ended up with the Brooklyn Nets before retiring in 2014. 

Unlike Rogers and Collins, Sam was in the process of transitioning from the collegiate to professional level at the time of his coming out. 

His decision was accepted by many, but he did have his share of critics in the NFL. He was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL draft, but he did not play a regular-season game in his rookie season. 

One has to think if Rogers did not come out as gay we may not have seen players like Collins and Sam come out in public like they did. 

White House Archived @ObamaWhiteHouse

"I want to recognize...Robbie Rogers of the Galaxy...blazing a trail as one of professional sports’ first openly gay players" —Obama

As it is with any sensitive topic matter like this, one athlete has to take charge and be the face of the movement whether they like it or not. 

Rogers is the face of the gay athlete in America, and he has inspired these two professional athletes as well as countless others who are not in the athletic spotlight to be comfortable in their own skin and make the life-changing statement. 

Although it may not happen tomorrow or a few months from now, the next athlete to come out from a major American sport will most likely credit Rogers in some fashion about the timing of their decision. 

While other athletes have benefited from Rogers' advice and success since coming out, the acceptance of his decision and support from an entire league may end up having the largest lasting impact when we look back on this 20 years from now. 

If Rogers was a football or basketball player, he may have had a hard time finding a new professional team, but the complete opposite has happened in soccer.

In the months following his return to MLS, the league stepped up its efforts with its "Don't Cross the Line" campaign, with most of the league's stars appearing in advertisements for the movement. 

The campaign featured in-stadium advertisement boards and commercials with most of the league's biggest stars standing firm against discrimination. 

Jul 31, 2013; Kansas City, KS, USA; A general view of the don't cross the line campaign on the video boards before the 2013 MLS All Star Game at Sporting Park. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

With a ton of support behind him from the start, Rogers was able to focus on turning himself into a successful soccer player once again. If he plied his trade in another sport, he may have been shunned by the league just like what is happening with Sam and the NFL. 

By settling into the Galaxy lineup and extending his career by a few more years, Rogers has also been able to extend his platform and push for equal rights on a larger scale. 

One of the biggest issues staring the sport in the face right now is the laws in place in Russia and Qatar, who are the next two hosts of the FIFA World Cup. 

"I think about the role that FIFA plays and their sensitivity to the LGBT communitynot only the LGBT community but to human rights in different countries," Rogers said via ESPNFC. "I mean, if you read their mission statement on their website it talks about using football to promote education and human rights." 

Rogers can find a way to make a difference on the world scale regardless of if he makes the trip to Russia in 2018 with the USMNT. By using soccer as a platform, Rogers and other stars of the sport have a chance to create change.

Aug 20, 2013; Carson, CA, USA; Los Angeles Galaxy forward Robbie Rogers (14) in a Champions League match against Cartagines at the StubHub Center. The Galaxy defeated Cartagines 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

"I think people need to start talking about it now," he said in the same ESPN article. "We waited until the last six months before the Russian Olympics to bring up the issue." 

If the conversation begins now about the human rights issues in Russia and Qatar, pressure can be put on the respective countries to change their laws in the ever-evolving world we live in.

While he may continue to have success on the field for years to come in MLS, Rogers' lasting legacy could come off the field in the push for equality in other countries as well as America. 

If he is able to pave the way for adjustments in the laws of the two host nations, or at least get a major discussion going ahead of the World Cup, he will have achieved more than scoring a goal or playing 90 minutes of strong defense. 

It has been just two years since Rogers decided to come out, but in that small window of time, he has turned into a role model for people from all different walks of life. 

If he continues to influence other athletes and off-the-field matters in such a positive manner, we could look back on the letter he penned in England as a true landmark moment in sports history. 

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90

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