Galaxy's Robbie Rogers, middle, holds his new Galaxy jersey with… (Michael Nelson / EPA )
The announcements, the decisions, the introductions and the reactions have passed. Now Robbie Rogers will be judged by what he does on the field for the Los Angeles Galaxy.
But when Rogers steps on the field, he will do so as an athlete, icon and target.
“Society is changing,” he said Saturday during his introductory news conference at Home Depot Center. “Obviously there are a lot of people that are still behind, and they should be willing to accept the fact that there are gay men and women out there who don’t have a choice. I was created this way.”
Rogers said that speaking at an LGBT camp he attended in Portland gave him the courage to embrace his role as the first openly gay male athlete to play for a major professional sports team in the United States.
“It’s great to share this message with people and athletes around the world and people in middle America who may be a bit homophobic,” Rogers said. “They need to see that I am just like their son, and I’m an athlete who likes to play sports and I’m ready to get back to my sport.”
But Rogers said he is prepared for a backlash and malicious responses from fans around the league.
“I just let those people voice their opinion,” Rogers said. “This is the United States; they can say what they want. In the end, I’ll still love them. I’ll still give them a hug if they want one. I think it’s inevitable that in the future everyone will accept that this is just part of life.”
The inspiration to return came in the form of a video package the MLS sent to media outlets across the country showing Rogers practicing with his teammates in Columbus, where he won an MLS championship in 2008 and was an All-Star. It led to a phone call to Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena.
“It was those clips that I saw. I was missing this stuff before then, but when I saw it, how it made me really happy. And this wasn’t even serious competition. That was the tipping point, and I sent Bruce an email right after that.”
But what ultimately made Rogers comfortable with returning to soccer was the welcoming response he received from the MLS, citing the difference between locker rooms in the United States and Europe, where he played for Leeds United and Stevenage in England in 2011 and 2012.
Due to his time with the U.S. national team, Rogers had built a strong bond with Galaxy forward Landon Donovan, who said he hopes fans and players treat Rogers with respect just as any other player would want.
“We don’t think about it at all. He’s just another guy, another good player on our team,” Donovan said. “I’m just hopeful that's the way the sporting world will move forward now.”
Galaxy captain Robbie Keane said he is excited to see the talent Rogers brings to the team, despite the negative attention it may draw from opposing fans.
“Of course you’re going to get some ... idiots,” Keane said. “That’s part of life and society. You get certain individuals. It’s no big deal.”
From the first time Rogers steps foot on the field, he will be judged, singled out and applauded. But for Rogers, who said he probably would have stayed retired if he didn’t get an opportunity to play for the Galaxy, it’s all about the experience and everything that comes with it.
“I feel the added pressure. Now you’re representing a whole community,” Rogers said. “I just have to remind people that I am human. I’m going to make mistakes. This is a learning process for me. Just be excited to continue this movement toward acceptance.”
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