Friday, February 15, 2013

Maybe We Found Him

Almost a year ago I posted about soccer and sexual orientation, about the need for a modern-day Jackie Robinson to come forward and do for the LBGT athletes what Mr. Robinson did for African-Americans 65 years ago.

I didn't think twice about the post when it was written. I had made a conscious effort to avoid political and polarizing topics in my posts to that point, although I had toed the line once or twice before (particularly with regard to Rashard Mendenhall's tweets after Osama Bin Ladin's death). But I didn't think my post about the need for a champion for gay rights in sports would stir up any controversy.

Boy, was I wrong.

Many of my friends questioned the wisdom of that post. While every single one professed deep and abiding agreement with the position I had taken, they all expressed concerns that others who might read the post who didn't share my (and their) sensibilities might be offended.

Since that time, there have been some interesting developments regarding gay rights and sexual orientation in this country and in sports. It's hard to ignore the huge movement to legalize same sex marriage in many states. In soccer, Megan Rapinoe affirmatively stated that she is a lesbian (and gave a heartfelt speech at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center's Anniversary Gala), and in football, former NFL player Kwame Harris was essentially outed when he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his ex-boyfriend

The closest yet to the call for a modern-day Robinson came today, though, when Robbie Rogers, a player with Leeds United, a former MLS player and U.S. Men's National Team member, announced that he is gay and is "stepping away" from soccer. Many of Rogers' former teammates posted messages of support on social media. And Rogers himself wrote of the great relief that he felt in finally admitting what he had so long hidden out of fear.

Rogers, in the U.S. shirt.
Is there a long way to go? Of course. For starters, the one disappointment in Rogers' announcement, is that, at a mere 25 years of age, he will not continue to play professional soccer, at least at this point, and serve as the same beacon that Robinson did for black athletes.

And one only need look to Russia and Eastern Europe to see the ugly side of soccer hate that still exists, whether directed toward black or homosexual players.

But we are, at the least, several steps closer to soccer's Robinson. And Rogers' announcement that he is stepping away, not retiring, gives some hope that he may return to the field, perhaps back in MLS.

And I can, perhaps, feel a little vindication for asking someone like him to step forward.

Post-script: Rogers' signing rights were acquired by the L.A. Galaxy from the Chicago Fire. Rogers will be in the squad for the Galaxy's May 26 match, becoming the first openly gay male to participate in a professional team sport in the U.S.

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