Former Columbus Crew and United States Men's National Team midfielder Robbie Rogers earned himself headlines early Friday morning London time when he announced to the world via his personal blog that he was gay and that he was also leaving professional football.
"For the past 25 year [sic] 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," reads part of Rogers' post. He also wrote: "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."
Perhaps the most noteworthy tidbit to take from the post outside of Rogers coming out is that it doesn't necessarily read as a retirement letter. Rogers didn't even use that word. Rather, he wrote: "Now is my time to step away. It's time to discover myself away from football." Were he to decide to return to Major League Soccer at some point down the road, the Chicago Fire would be first in line to sign him because, well, that's how MLS works.
Almost immediately after Rogers Tweeted out the link for his blog post at 11:47 am ET Friday morning, he began receiving messages of support from current and former MLS players, football analysts and fans. Some within the MLS community also used the occasion to point out that US supporters would naturally be much more supportive of an openly homosexual athlete than would fans located in countries such as Spain, England, France and Italy. It was those posts that got me thinking about how all of us within the MLS community could, and absolutely must, do better moving forward from today's news.
I will never be a professional athlete nor will I ever be gay, and thus I'll never be able to comprehend many of the things Rogers has dealt with during his 25+ years on this earth. I do understand, however, that locker rooms and playing fields aren't always the friendliest of venues for individuals deemed to be "different" by some of their peers. That statement holds true when speaking about or referring to MLS.
MLS and the league's fans have taken steps in the right direction on this matter. You rarely, if ever, hear words like "fa----" or "fai--" belted out by fans at league matches. Gay pride flags and banners have been spotted in supporters sections around the country, and MLS launched the "Don't Cross the Line" promotion last season. That's all well and good, but it leaves one big question that hasn't yet been adequately answered: Where exactly does that line fall?
I'll pick on New York Red Bulls fans to make my point, mostly because I am one of them and have been to Red Bull Arena more times than I have visited any other MLS arena. Each time I've ventured out to Harrison, NJ for a RBNY contest, I've heard multiple non-PG chants emerge from the South Ward (Red Bulls supporters section). That's part of the professional football/soccer atmosphere, and most of those songs/chants are more silly or even dumb than they are offensive.
Tunes like the (possibly NSFW depending on where you work) one linked here are neither silly nor are they dumb. They have no place in MLS arenas, plain and simple. Obviously, RBNY fans did not create nor are they the only group of supporters to sing similar songs. This was merely to illustrate that MLS isn't always the PC haven it's perceived to be.
Those who disagree with me about these particular songs will tell you that nobody is trying to offend any group of people. The fans doing the singing are just having some fun. They'll tell you that I'm but another symptom of the "soccer-momification" of the sport they love. I would again ask all in that camp to explain to me the following: How far is too far?
There is, in my eyes, a substantial difference between singing "you know what you are" about a player who has used racist terms on the pitch and suggesting that the goalkeeper for the opposing team "takes it up the a--" or that he is a pedophile. Misogynistic and sexist chants also should never be tolerated. It's great that we can rally in support of Rogers right now.
Let's not forget how we all felt on this day when the 2013 MLS season kicks off next month.
Zac has been covering Tottenham Hotspur, Major League Soccer, RBNY, the USMNT and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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