Historic debut for 1st openly gay booter in US
LOS ANGELES, United States -- Robbie Rogers first tried to play down the historic aspect of becoming the first openly gay man to play in a major North American team sports league, but the Los Angeles Galaxy winger finally gave in.
"I won't ever forget tonight," Rogers tweeted after his substitute's role in a 4-0 home victory Sunday over Seattle.
The 26-year-old American walked onto the pitch and into the history books in the 77th minute to replace Juninho and found everything was "normal" despite admitting he was nervous for hours before the match.
"I guess part of me was just afraid -- not afraid, but a little nervous," Rogers said after the match.
"Historically this is a big thing, but for me, it's just another soccer game... But I'm not naive. I know people are watching."
How spectators responded was something that had been pondered since Rogers, who declared his homosexuality and announced his retirement in February, decided to make a comeback and joined the Galaxy last Friday.
A crowd of 24,811 applauded and loudly cheered Rogers' name as he entered, receiving a hand slap and pat on the back from teammate Landon Donovan.
"A huge smile of enjoyment," Rogers said of that moment. "Very supportive. It was good to be back. I'm just excited to move on from here."
Many fears Rogers had about revealing he was gay have so far been unfounded.
"People are very supportive. It's a great lesson I've learned -- it's almost like I didn't give people the opportunity to accept me," Rogers said.
"I've kind of been on this huge journey to kind of figure out my life and now I'm back here, I think kind of where I'm supposed to be."
The reception Rogers receives from players and fans will be watched as well, but all-time US scoring leader Donovan made it clear he supports Rogers.
"It's already a success," Donovan said. "It's already a big step in the right direction for our society as a whole. We can't imagine what it's been like for Robbie to go through what he has gone through."
"When all is said and done, we'll probably look back and say it's crazy that we even cared about that at the time, that it's not a big deal. That's the hope," he said.
Not everyone in support
Maybe not for everyone. San Jose's Alan Gordon was suspended for three matches this season for making a homophobic slur to an MLS rival. The Galaxy's Colin Clark was banned last year for a similar incident while with Houston.
"You hope that people treat him like any other player," Donovan said. "When people are nasty, that's something no athlete likes, that no person would like."
Irishman Robbie Keane, the Galaxy's captain, played most of his 14 European seasons in England and said he was sure there were gay players in England who were too frightened to come out publicly.
"I think it's maybe easier to cope with it in America than England, where they're maybe a little bit behind over there," Keane said.
"I think maybe the fans are a bit more brutal than they would be here... Everyone should be equal. It's 2013, for Christ's sake."
Locker room different
Rogers played briefly for England's Leeds United this past season but left after a loan deal to English League One side Stevenage expired in January.
"I think the locker rooms in MLS are a little bit different from what I've experienced in Europe," Rogers said. "That's not to say that in England or Europe that they're ready or not ready. I'm not sure.
"The MLS is definitely ready and I think the United States is ready for more athletes to come out in other sports and I'm hoping from this experience and the experience of others, more athletes will feel comfortable with doing so."
Since Rogers's decision to come out, basketball center Jason Collins has also told the world that he is gay.
Collins, who has played for six NBA teams over the past 12 seasons, hasn't played since his announcement but will be hoping to land with a team when free agents can be signed in July.
"Our society is changing," Rogers said. "I think it's inevitable that in the future everyone will accept that this is just part of life." - Rappler.com