Yesterday, US international and former Leeds and Stevenage player, Robbie Rogers, posted an emotional blog post in which he declared he was gay and intended to retire from football.
It marked another chapter in the very slow-moving history of homosexuality in football, but Rogers’s announcement has left more questions unanswered than answered. Should football be proud of Rogers’ ability to come out, or ashamed he had to wait until he was 25 and retired before revealing his secret?
Rogers is the first professional footballer to come out in Britain since Justin Fashanu in 1990.
Like Rogers, Fashanu’s football career was stagnating by the time he revealed to the Sun he was world’s first openly-gay footballer, but his announcement caused a storm even he couldn’t have expected. Fashanu found himself excluded and alienated by his teammates, fans and even members of his own family.
Clubs refused to hire him and he dropped further and further down the football ladder. In 1998, after accusations of a sexual assault against a 17-year-old man in the States, Fashanu flew back to London where he was found hanged in an abandoned garage.
Remembering Justin Fashanu’s tragic story, it’s not difficult to see why footballers fear coming out.
Rogers’s early-morning blog post makes him just the second ever British-based openly-gay footballer. There have long been calls for a brave player to make the big step forward and reveal they were gay but will Rogers’ announcement satisfy those calls, and has Rogers actually done anything to help any footballers who feel scared to reveal their sexuality?
Without wishing to disrespect Rogers, many would have hoped for a player with a higher profile to come out. In his homeland he is reasonably well-known among football fans, but on this side of the Atlantic, it’s unlikely anybody would have heard of Rogers unless they supported either Leeds or Stevenage.
In the handful of games he actually played for Leeds (one start and three substitute appearances) and Stevenage (five matches) he looked pretty unremarkable, and his time in English football was hampered by injuries. Even though he has played Olympic football and won 18 caps for the US, he could hardly be considered anything more than an average footballer.
He is unattached after his Leeds contract was terminated in January, and his sporting career looked to be directionless after a disappointing stint in England. It’s fair to say he wasn’t the high-profile name equal-rights campaigners were hoping for.
Far more worrying than his low profile is the fact he had to retire from the game, aged 25, before he felt he could disclose his secret.
The news of his retirement took up just a paragraph in his blog post, and his reasons for quitting the game are very unclear. Even though he doesn’t say his sexuality had anything to do with his decision to retire, he clearly implies he was not comfortable revealing his sexuality while playing.
Rogers’s retirement suggests footballers still believe the sport is too backwards to accept homosexuality.
But there’s no doubt Rogers coming out will make it easier for other gay footballers to follow suit in future.
Reassuringly, following his announcement, Rogers’s twitter feed was flooded with supportive messages from players, fans and friends from outside football. Leeds United forums were full of well-wishing messages, which far out-weighted the tiny, homophobic minority.
Rogers has proved football has moved on.
The nature of his announcement shows there is still work to do to make it easier for footballers to come out. But the reaction of the football world shows British football has moved on from the shameful days of Justin Fashanu, and is now in a position where it can accept homosexuality.
Rogers has laid the foundation for more gay footballers to reveal their sexuality, should they wish to do so.