February 15, 2013 will be viewed as a monumental day in the history of US Soccer.
That is the day former US National Team and Columbus Crew midfielder Robbie Rogers announced that he is stepping away from soccer and in so doing also announced that he is gay.
Rogers, who played for Leeds United and on loan with Stevenage in England since leaving MLS after the 2011 season, made the announcement on his website (www.therobbierogers.com), saying, “I could not be happier with my decision. Life is so full of amazing things. I realized I could only truly enjoy my life once I was honest. … My secret is gone, I am a free man, I can move on and live my life as my creator intended.”
The announcement came as a shock in the soccer community, but was greeted with great support from the US soccer community, including former teammates and coaches. Few know him better, though, than Sounders FC midfielder Brad Evans and head coach Sigi Schmid.
For a year and a half while they were teammates with the Crew, Evans and Rogers were roommates at home and on the road and were virtually inseparable.
Even still, it came as a surprise to Evans when Rogers told him of his plan to leave soccer and pursue a career in fashion design in London.
“It’s easy for me to say that I know who he is, I know the type of person he is and I know everything about him. Except that one thing,” Evans said.
Rogers, 25, said that he lived all his life in fear that if anyone learned his secret, he would be rejected, ostracized and would never be able to pursue his dreams of playing in the World Cup and the Olympics.
That, Evans said, is disappointing.
Soccer is known as the world’s game - a sport in which cultures from around the globe unite with a common goal. Yet for all of its unifying qualities, it is still not a culture that is viewed by homosexuals as welcoming.
“The stigma is still there. The prejudice is still out there and that’s unfortunate,” Evans said. “I like to think soccer players are more cultured than other athletes and if there was ever an environment to come out in, I would think that soccer is one of the best.”
Added Schmid, “It’s important for our sport and every sport that an athlete can feel comfortable to make that announcement and still play. I would hate to think that athlete’s feel that they would have to step away because of that. Hopefully we are either getting to that stage or at that stage where they don’t have to step away.”
For Evans and Rogers, the topic was never broached. That is why Evans is more surprised by his decision to step away from the game of soccer.
When they roomed together in Columbus, they were constantly playing soccer – whether it was on the field or in makeshift soccer tennis courts in their living room. When they weren’t playing soccer, they were watching soccer.
“He was a magnet,” Evans laughed. “Everything was about soccer. We lived together for a long time and everything revolved around soccer.”
That love for the game was prevalent in Rogers even from a young age. At nine years old, he became friends with Schmid’s youngest son, Kyle. Even at that age, Schmid knew that he was a special player and that proved true when Rogers played for Schmid with the Columbus Crew. Schmid signed Rogers in 2007 and they won an MLS Cup together in 2008. He remained with Columbus through the 2011 season, finishing with 13 goals and 16 assists in 106 career appearances.
Watching that growth that also saw Rogers play in 18 matches for the US National Team and played in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing
“I was disappointed that he’s stepping away because I think Robbie is a good player,” Schmid said. “I’ve seen his career develop and I still think he has something to give the game. But that’s the decision that he feels comfortable with so I’m supportive of that.”
That support has been overwhelming ever since Rogers made the announcement and will continue as the game of soccer takes steps closer to truly becoming the World’s game.