Robbie Rogers came out of the closet and promptly retired from professional soccer in February, a decision that at the time seemed bittersweet to equality advocates who had been waiting for the first openly gay player to appear in major American sports. Rogers explained then that he wasn’t ready to deal with the pressure or media attention that would come with being that player, and he largely disappeared from the spotlight afterward.
He eventually came back, and at the end of May he walked onto the pitch for the Los Angeles Galaxy. Since then, Rogers has become the advocate fans wanted him to be from the beginning. And in a letter to his 14-year-old self published in ESPN The Magazine, he explained the journey he took to find himself, and offered advice to young people facing the battle he once fought both in sports and outside of them:
I’m not going to tell you to come out at 14 years old. I’m not going to tell you what’s going to happen in the future either because the journey is important. But I want you to realize that God made you this way for a reason. You’re not damned or going to hell. You didn’t have a choice in this. But you do have a purpose in life, just as everyone does.
When guys say things in the locker room, remind yourself that most of them don’t actually feel this way. They aren’t really homophobic. These are people trying to please others, or think that’s what they’re supposed to say. Everyone is dealing with something, whether they’re gay or straight.
You don’t have to feel like you’re alone.
Which brings me to this: If there’s any great advice I can give you, it’s to find someone you can speak to about what you’re feeling inside, someone you can trust who won’t judge or expose you. Because you can’t walk around with a burden like the one you’re carrying. You’ve got to share this with somebody.
A month after coming out, Rogers told The Guardian that none of his teammates knew he was gay until he came out. Not even his family knew until shortly before he published the blog post that announced his sexuality to the world. The pain of his secret, Rogers said, left him fearful and frustrated and ultimately unable to celebrate even when his team won Major League Soccer’s championship in 2008. One teammate, Sacha Kljestan, saw Rogers after he came out and said the relief of opening up to the world was evident on his face. For the first time, Rogers was truly happy.
But it took him time to get to that point, and even if 14-year-old Robbie Rogers shared his experience, it might not have meant that he entered the field as an openly gay player sooner than he did. Part of Rogers’ journey involved finding satisfaction and happiness with himself and sharing that with people in his life, steps he had to take if he was going to have the support systems in place that being an out male athlete requires. “And when the time is right, the day might come when you’re ready to face the world as the beautiful person you truly are,” Rogers wrote at the end of the letter. Reaching that point allowed Rogers to become an advocate, but neither he nor his 14-year-old self owe sports fans or the world an explanation for the amount of time it took him to find comfort in that role.