In February 2013, Robbie Rogers wrote a story on his blog, alone in the middle of the night, announcing he was gay and that he was retiring from professional soccer at age 25, a promising career cut short by the strain of wrestling with his sexuality. Now, 18 months later, Rogers is a key player on the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer and was rewarded by the team Thursday with a multiyear contract extension.
"We are excited that Robbie will remain a part of our organization going forward," Galaxy Head Coach and General Manager Bruce Arena said. "He has proven to be a dynamic player in our League and an integral part of our success this year. We look forward to his continued contributions in the years to come."
This news shows how far Rogers has come from those dark days when he had given up the sport he loved. His blog post was full of torment and angst and a sense that he could not play pro soccer as an openly gay man. "My secret is gone, I am a free man, I can move on," Rogers wrote with what seemed like finality. Little did he dream of what would happen over the next 21 months.
After Rogers came out, I was interviewed by ABC News and said: "He's only 25 and he may get another shot. Ironically it might be the best thing that happens to him. Maybe he will be so liberated and free now that he will play better soccer." I nailed that one.
Rogers was greeted with amazing support within the MLS community and signed with the Galaxy in May 2013. He had a shaky year on the field, telling the L.A. Times: "The whole season was difficult. From the beginning, not being fit. And then injuries. It was difficult. It was. But it really builds character I think."
He is a much better player in 2014 and the Galaxy is 10-2-7 in 19 games played with the Galaxy in all MLS competitions. The Galaxy is in the Western Conference finals, which start later this month. Galaxy captain Robbie Keane says Rogers might be the best left back in the league and touted him for the U.S. men's national team.
This is not a surprise that Rogers is playing so well. He's not carrying around a huge weight on his back anymore. We have heard numerous LGBT athletes speak of how much better they performed after they successfully came out. They no longer had to spend the emotional energy hiding, measuring every word they said and inventing opposite-sex partners, or live in fear of having their secret revealed. While there certainly are closeted athletes who are successful, these are people best able to compartmentalize their personal life and their athletic life; Rogers was not of them.
Life is fantastic for Rogers now. He has a boyfriend, just released a book, "Coming Out to Play," is in demand as a speaker and is having a TV series produced that is based on his life as a gay athlete. He is also playing the sport he loves with joy and passion, no longer afraid, and that has been a blessing for himself, his team and LGBT athletes everywhere.