This article first appeared in Football.com
A few months ago I was invited on a fairly prominent soccer radio show in order to discuss the worrying resurgence of racism in the world of football. Towards the end of the interview I suggested that it was curious that although various football governing bodies were tackling the problem, little was being done to address homophobia in the game. Additionally, I noted that the sports media needed to take a more active role in changing this reality.
Thus, when Robbie Rogers courageously revealed that he was gay on Friday, I couldn’t help but wonder whether this was the watershed moment that would propel the issue to the front pages of sporting publications.
Homosexuality has been an occasional topic in football. Though, its recurrence has done more to prevent gay players from coming out than anything else. Nowhere is this more true than in England, where turgid tabloids have consistently highlighted homophobic dressing rooms, or as former Irish international Tony Cascarino put it: “perverted nudist camps…where common decency and accepted behavior do not apply.” Cascarino, like many other former and current footballers, managers, and pundits, has claimed that openly gay players would find it virtually impossible to continue their careers.
Up to this point, there’s been little to suggest that Cascarino is wrong. Even straight players have found themselves persecuted by both the media and fellow professionals. Take former Blackburn, Chelsea, and England left-back, Graeme Le Saux, who admitted that he almost quit football after having his sexuality questioned because of his intellectual pursuits, and being mocked by Robbie Fowler during a Premier League match, when the Liverpool striker repeatedly pointed towards his backside. Former Swedish international and Seattle Sounder, Freddie Ljundberg, was also the victim of a similar witch hunt, and like Le Saux, was the constant target of homophobic chants during games.
Thankfully, though, the response to Robbie Rogers’ admission has been incredibly encouraging, and it could spark a movement to help rid the sport of the passive ‘acceptance’ that allows homophobia to flourish.
The American soccer community has shown tremendous support, mostly on social media, as has the English FA, and a number of Rogers’ former teammates in England. It would have been nice to hear a few words of support from FIFA president, Sepp Blatter. Yet, it would be presumptuous to expect support from a man who advised gays to “refrain from sexual activities” in Qatar, where homosexuality is punishable by law.
Sadly, Rogers has decided to take a break from the game in order to discover himself outside of football, as he put it. That, of course, is his prerogative, and he must to what he feels is best and necessary. Nevertheless, Rogers’ premature retirement leaves me (selfishly) disappointed. As a popular player of international pedigree, Rogers offers a rare opportunity to shed light on a topic that must be addressed now, and for the foreseeable future.
Without someone like Rogers, I fear that the media will suffer an amnesiac relapse, and the chance to galvanize a minority of players that has been reluctant to come out will have come and gone.
Still, no matter the outcome, we must celebrate Robbie Rogers, and trust that his confession has, and will continue to serve as an inspiration to others.