From Kent Barnes. Follow him on Twitter @KentBarnes, email him at kent[AT]borderstan.com.
On April 29, NBA player Jason Collins became the first openly gay male athlete in American professional sports. It was a landmark day for the gay community and for professional sports in the United States.
Just under one month later, on May 26, Major League Soccer player Robbie Rogers advanced the cause even further by becoming the first openly gay male athlete to play in an American professional sporting event (Collins is not currently under contract with an NBA team).
Rogers’ journey towards history began back in February when he abruptly retired from professional soccer, and revealed in a touching blog post that he was gay. Only 25, Rogers was in his athletic prime, and despite being released from Leeds United (a professional team in the second tier of English soccer), he could have surely latched on elsewhere and continued his career.
But for Rogers, the weight of carrying a secret for 25 years had taken its toll and he needed to step back and discover himself away from soccer. His announcement and decision were met with enormous support from the soccer community, athletes and entertainers around the country. Rogers was touched by the outpouring of support, but his playing career remained on hold indefinitely.
Thankfully his hiatus did not last long. The Chicago Fire owned the rights to a contract with Robbie Rogers if he decided to return to Major League Soccer. Rogers was interested in returning, but only if he could do so close to his family in California where he felt he would be most comfortable. On May 24th, the Los Angeles Galaxy traded Mike McGee to Chicago and signed Rogers to a contract.
Two days later when the Galaxy took on the Seattle Sounders, Rogers was included on the match day roster and thus was eligible to come off the bench as a substitute. Prior to the game, he was asked what he hoped to contribute. He responded “I’m hoping that I can come on, it’s 4-0, and I can just enjoy myself.” In truly poetic fashion, the Galaxy scored four first half goals and Rogers entered the game to a tremendous standing ovation in the 77th minute.
Interviewed after the game, Rogers said that he understood “this was a historic thing, but for me it was just a soccer game.” It was of course much more than just a soccer game. It was another gigantic step forward in the fight for equality and acceptance throughout all facets of American life and culture. Collins and Rogers might be the first openly gay male athletes in the United States, but they certainly won’t be the last.
If you’d like to show your support for Robbie Rogers in person, the LA Galaxy will be in town to take on DC United on Sunday, September 15th at 5 pm. Tickets are available here.