Jonathan Tannenwald is a reporter on the Real Time News Desk who covers a range of sports, with a focus on soccer and college basketball. He fell in love with the former while in France during the 1998 World Cup, and the latter when he attended his first Big 5 game at the Palestra as a college student (no, he isn't telling you which school).
The American soccer community was jolted Friday afternoon when one of the sport's more familiar faces, 25-year-old Robbie Rogers, declared himself to be gay and stepped away from playing the sport.
Despite his relatively young age, Rogers enjoyed a successful career with the Columbus Crew, English club Leeds United and the U.S. national team. Among his most prominent moments was scoring the tying goal in the U.S.' 1-1 draw with Mexico at Lincoln Financial Field in July of 2011. That was Jurgen Klinsmann's first game as U.S. head coach.
Rogers moved from Columbus to Leeds after the 2012 MLS season. His prominence faded after that due to injury, and Leeds released him last month. The California native decided to return to Major League Soccer, and the Chicago Fire traded to gain his rights from Columbus.
But Rogers won't be playing for Chicago or any other MLS team, at least for the next while. He posted a brief and eloquent statement on his personal website Friday afternoon, which read in part:
For the past 25 year 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.
Dreams of going to a World Cup, dreams of The Olympics, dreams of making my family proud. What would life be without these dreams? Could I live a life without them?
Life is only complete when your loved ones know you. When they know your true feelings, when they know who and how you love. Life is simple when your secret is gone. Gone is the pain that lurks in the stomach at work, the pain from avoiding questions, and at last the pain from hiding such a deep secret.
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.
Rogers is the most prominent American soccer player to yet come out, but he is not the first. Another former Crew player, David Testo, publicly declared his sexual orientation in November of 2011. Testo spent most of his career in the lower divisions of American soccer, including with the Montréal Impact before the club moved to MLS.
Last year, Leander Schaerlaeckens wrote this profile of Testo for SB Nation. It tells the player's story in exceptional detail, and I would very much recommend that you read it.
When Rogers made his announcement, there was quite a bit of reaction across the soccer landscape. Some of the strongest words of praise came from Rogers' former teammates with the U.S. national team.
In addition, the U.S. Soccer Federation issued this formal statement:
As a Federation we support all our athletes who have had the courage to address this deeply personal topic. We are proud of Robbie. He has been an outstanding representative of our National Team program for many years. We support him and wish him great success in the future.
Here's a collection of what has been said to and about Rogers.
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