Before Jason Collins, There Was Robbie Rogers, Sort Of

Robbie Rogers kind of made news a couple of months ago when he came out of the closet and then subsequently retired from professional soccer. For a brief second (literally the time it takes to read from the top of the blog post where he says that he is gay to the bottom where he announces his retirement), he was the first active male athlete playing a professional team sport in the US to be openly gay.

As the New York Times wrote at the end of March:

On the afternoon of Feb. 15, after getting a push from several of his closest friends — “I was talking about it again and they told me, ‘Post it, or shut up about it!’ ” Rogers said through a laugh — he did just that. Rogers posted LetterOfLife to his Web site and, in doing so, revealed to teammates, coaches and fans everywhere that he was gay. “Football hid my secret,” he wrote. “I realized I could only truly enjoy my life once I was honest.” He also announced that he was retiring from soccer, despite being only 25.

In that interview, Rogers said that he would not rule out a return to professional soccer in the future:

I’m definitely not closing any doors. Maybe I will go back. Right now, I’m just happy to be out and being honest with people. But just because I’m out doesn’t mean I’m 100 percent healthy. It’s been 25 years that I haven’t been myself. Twenty-five years of lying. That’s really, really hard.

It appears that future is now.

Yesterday, only a day after Jason Collins’ historic announcement about being an active gay NBA player, Rogers tweeted:

Rogers is on the left side of the green grass, in mid-kick, with one leg pulled back. He is wearing a yellow jersey and black shorts. Over to the right are three other players in a line watching him. There are benches in the back with people standing near them. Otherwise it's green grass.

Robbie Rogers practicing with the LA Galaxy on Tuesday

Galaxy’s coach, Bruce Arena, said this after the workout:

I think our league is a progressive league. Our league is a league comprised of all different races, colours and creeds, and to be accepting of a gay athlete I don’t think is anything that’s difficult for our league. We’ve had a great mentality of being open and tolerant of all different kinds of people, views, what have you. We’ve known Robbie a bunch of years and he’s a first-class person and we’re only too excited to have him here with us.

As I’ve written about multiple times before, the MLS has been on the forefront of openly tackling homophobia:

The MLS has yet to gain popularity on a national level and much of its support seems localized around the teams. Yet this should not diminish the example that it is showing to all professional sports league on how to handle homophobic language. The MLS, as an organization, has taken an active role in fighting back not just against major homophobic acts (discrimination, public statements in the media, etc.) but against casual language on the pitch.

Collins may be the most high-profile gay athlete still active in his sport in the US but he is not the only one.

As Griner tweeted to Collins: “I’m so glad to see I’m not alone in this!” And as Rogers himself tweeted after news broke about Collins on Monday: “I feel a movement coming.”

The Ultimate Fighting Championship now has female bouts: the first-ever included Liz Carmouche, an openly gay fighter, the first in the UFC. Fallon Fox is an open transgender woman fighting in MMA. Professional soccer player Megan Rapinoe came out last year before the London Olympics began (she is currently playing in France). Rumors have been swirling for a while about multiple NFL players going public about being gay. It would be exciting to look across the spectrum of professional sports and see Rogers in the MLS, Collins in the NBA, and Griner and Seimone Augustus in the WNBA.

Rogers is certainly good enough to return. I’m hopeful that he will. If he does it soon enough, it will be as Grant Wahl wrote on Twitter today:

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