LOS ANGELES (AP) - Until about a month ago, Robbie Rogers had no interest in being one of the highest-profile openly gay athletes in the world.
Rogers didn’t want the pressure or attention, and he was weary of soccer itself. After coming out and simultaneously retiring in February, the former MLS champion and U.S. national team player planned to devote himself to fashion school and family, not soccer or social change.
Rogers told The Associated Press he changed his mind when he realized how much he still loved his sport _ and how much good he could do by playing it instead of standing on the sideline.
“I don’t know what I was so afraid of,” Rogers said. “It’s been such a positive experience for me. The one thing I’ve learned from all of this is being gay is not that big of a deal to people.”
Rogers joined the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer on Saturday, agreeing to a multiyear contract in another step by openly gay athletes in professional sports.
The 26-year-old Rogers recently thought he would never pull on another jersey, imagining nonstop scrutiny and criticism. His concerns were eased by the strong support he received from family, fans and players, including Galaxy star Landon Donovan.
Now Rogers is eager to be more than a footnote. He is determined to thrive as the league’s first openly gay player.
“People are just really growing and accepting and loving,” Rogers said. “Those other things are just not that important to them. I think as the younger get older and the generations come and go, I think times are just becoming more accepting.”
The two-time defending champion Galaxy traded top scorer Mike Magee to acquire Rogers, an MLS veteran who spent the last two seasons in England. He trained with the Galaxy in recent weeks and hoped to continue his career in his native Southern California. The Galaxy made it happen by giving up the popular Magee in a trade with the Chicago Fire, who held Rogers’ MLS rights.
“I want to get back to soccer, which is what I love,” Rogers said. “I get to do something I love, and I get to help people and be a positive role model. I’m really excited to set a great example for other kids that are going through the same thing I went through. It’s a perfect world for me, a perfect world.”
Coach Bruce Arena thinks Rogers already is in decent shape despite 18 months with little match experience. Arena figures Rogers could be a strong contributor to the Galaxy by July, but he could play in any upcoming match.
“Certainly the league, and I think the fans, are going to be receptive in a real positive way,” Arena told the AP. “But we’re not in this to pioneer social issues. We’re trying to win games as a team, and we’re trying to produce the best team we can. Robbie has shown us that he has the potential to still be a real good player in our league, and that’s what we’re hopeful of.”
Rogers is mindful of the place he’ll take in the culture when he steps on the field this summer, but the skilled, speedy winger is even more excited to contend for MLS titles and another chance to play the U.S. national team _ a stark contrast from his plans earlier this year when he was accepted to the menswear program at the London College of Fashion.
“I had a lot of fear to come back to the game,” Rogers said, remembering countless instances of homophobia everywhere from the stands to locker rooms. “I was just afraid I was putting myself in an environment that in the past had affected my mental health because I always felt like an outcast. I felt that I couldn’t be myself.”
“But it’s been amazing,” he added. “It’s been normal, just as it should be. I’m a soccer player. I happen to be gay, but I’m a professional soccer player, and I have been since I was 18, 19. … I’m just really excited to go back to the game, and excited to deal with these stupid stereotypes that are out there with athletes and the gay community, just a bunch of different things.”