Not many guys in professional sports are comfortable enough in their own skin to admit they played with My Little Pony as a kid. OK, maybe not a lot of them did, but it's a subtle, powerful revelation Robbie Rogers makes in his new memoir, Coming Out To Play.
Rogers lays everything out in the book, sharing intimate details about his dating life (which included women long before he took the leap to dating men), growing up in a Catholic family, hearing slurs in British soccer, meeting his boyfriend, TV producer Greg Berlanti, and his journey in the months before coming out.
Yet it's that My Little Pony story that stuck out to me because of what it represented (you can read an excerpt of this story from the book here). Rogers was the perfect all-American kid. He had good looks, was exceptionally athletic, came from a good family, was loved by his parents and friends and seemed to have everything going for him. Yet there he was as a young boy asking for My Little Pony dolls for Christmas with his father complaining about the pink and powder blue horses potentially turning his son gay. It's an incredible social commentary on the sometimes-suffocating power of gender norms.
It resonated deeply with me. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Wonder Woman. The TV show was syndicated so it was on TV daily. I watched every afternoon. I even took one of my sister's Barbie dolls and pretended she was Wonder Woman. Like Robbie, I found a refuge I sports despite teammates and even my coach making gay cracks. I could feel his pain.
There is also a lot of pain in the book. This kid who on the outside seemed to have it all was struggling deeply inside to the extent that almost no one but a closeted LGBT person growing up in a deeply religious environment could truly understand.
"Playing soccer actually helped me forget that underneath the surface I was this shameful and sinful person nobody would love," Rogers wrote. "On the field I could push all those bad feelings aside and still experience the joy that came from stepping onto the field with some of the best young athletes in the country who loved soccer a much as I did."
Of course, it was within soccer - and specifically his time at the IMG Academy in Florida - that he also experienced some of the most homophobia (not necessarily directed at him) of his life. It was a paradox not easily solved that led to his eventual departure from the sport all together.
The silver lining, of course, is that he is now openly gay, with a great partner and a loving family, is reconciling the church with his sexual orientation and is on top of the sports world.
The book was written before the 2014 season, so it doesn't hit on Rogers' transition to a new position with the Los Angeles Galaxy and the success that followed. I have to believe there's a sequel in the works for after retirement some time in 2024.