In February, former US Men’s National Team winger Robbie Rogers stepped away from the game after announcing that he was gay. Now, Rogers is training with the Los Angeles Galaxy in what all signs point to as a comeback to the pitch. During the same week that NBA free agent Jason Collins announced he was gay and proclaimed the United States was ready for an active gay athlete, it begs the question is the United States really ready for a gay athlete?
I’d like to preface this by saying I largely respect Rogers and Collins for what they have done to stay true to themselves while I don’t agree that it is anyone’s business who or who they do not like to be involved romantically with. However, I think it is very easy for Collins to make such a proclamation when he is not contracted to a team. It is now a proclamation that Rogers will have to prove or disprove when he makes his eventual return to the MLS.
Rogers may not have the exposure playing the MLS that Collins would have had should he sign with an NBA team, but with the soft-press, gossip-driven media in the United States, Rogers will be catapulted to David Beckham-esque status. Just as the press put the NBA and its players under a microscope when Magic Johnson announced he had HIV, every altercation between Rogers and an opponent will be placed under a similar lens.
Mind you, this is less than a month after San Jose Earthquakes’ Alan Gordon was sent off against the Portland Timbers for using a homophobic slur. Gordon may be out to atone for what he did, but I assure you he isn’t the only one who uses such language, he’s just one of the ones who got caught.
All American football fans can remember the polarizing character that Tim Tebow has been since his days at Florida. While his actual skill may be questionable, his ability to bring out everyone who agree with him — even the crazies — as well as those who don’t — crazies on this side, as well — can not be doubted.
Whether he wants to be or not, Rogers will be a similarly polarizing figure. I’m just waiting for the Westboro Baptist Church to picket a MLS game that Rogers is playing in while a gay rights group pickets the picketers.
Let’s not forget Justin Fashanu who was charged for sexually assaulting a 17-year-old boy in Maryland, not because the boy was underage but because in 1998 homosexual sex acts were illegal in Maryland. 1998 may sound like a long time ago, but the same type of people still remain in this country.
Regardless of how many goals Rogers scores, he will soon become the most followed footballer in the United States by both those supporting him and those who are against them.