16 February 2013

Robbie Rogers comes out

Robbie Rogers has announced that he is gay after retiring from football.

Homosexuality is, sadly, one of the last taboos in professional football, and it takes a brave man to come out.

That is why Robbie Rogers deserves a lot of credit. The former United States international midfielder has become the first British-based footballer since the tragic Justin Fashanu to disclose that he is gay.

The 25-year-old, who was released by Leeds United last month following a short loan spell at Stevenage, made the revelation in his personal blog, in which he also announced that he'd decided to "step away" from football.

Rogers wrote, "My whole life I have felt different, different from my peers, even different from my family. In today’s society being different makes you brave. To overcome your fears you must be strong and have faith in your purpose.

"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.

"Secrets can cause so much internal damage. 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. Try convincing yourself that your creator has the most wonderful purpose for you even though you were taught differently.

"Football hid my secret, gave me more joy than I could have ever imagined... I will always be thankful for my career. Now is my time to step away. It’s time to discover myself away from football."

If Rogers has decided to retire from playing simply because of his sexuality, then it is very sad. The fear of being abused by spectators wherever they play might be too much for some, but judging by the reaction on Twitter from team-mates, fans and administrators alike, Robbie would be given a better reception than what Fashanu received in the years after his coming out.

The Los Angeles-born winger clearly has a lot of talent, otherwise he wouldn't have played over 100 Major League Soccer games for Columbus Crew or won 18 caps for his country. But if he feels that he needs to move away from football, that, of course, is up to him.

Other sports have their own gay role models. I'm talking about people like John Amaechi, Steven Davies, Martina Navratilova and Gareth Thomas - people who have earned nothing but praise from their peers since coming out. Sadly, football's relationship with homosexuality is not as amicable, or at least it hasn't been in the past.

Justin Fashanu was the first footballer to come out in 1990. The prejudice that Justin encountered afterwards was sickening. He was subjected to abuse from team-mates and spectators, his brother John disowned him, and he was all but driven out of English football four years later. In 1998, things came to a head when - shortly after being charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy in the US - Fashanu hanged himself. He was 37.

The first American soccer player to come out before Rogers announced that he was gay round about this time last year. Since then, David Testo - formerly of Columbus, Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact - has not played professionally.

However, football in some areas is slowly beginning to accept homosexuality. The only other openly gay player, as far as I'm aware, is Swedish defender Anton Hysen - the son of former Liverpool star Glenn. Hysen says his life has changed for the better since coming out in 2011.

Hope Powell, manager of the England women's team, is gay, as is her Sweden and former United States counterpart Pia Sundhage. That hasn't stopped them from being regarded as being among the best coaches in women's football.

Now that his secret has come out, Robbie Rogers can be a role model off the football pitch, even if he feels he can no longer play on it. He can serve as an inspiration for other gay footballers, of which there are many, who are quite simply too afraid to reveal the truth.

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