Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Intolerance forces gay player to retire

Rogers' act shows that sport, homosexuality still incompatible

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Woeful is that which gets in the way of our dreams. What, after all, would life be without dreams, without aspirations and desires and the hope and self-belief that everything you've ever wished for could be realized?

On Friday Robbie Rogers decided it wouldn't be much of a life at all.

"For the past 25 years I have been afraid, afraid to show who I really was because of fear," he wrote in an eloquent, early-morning blog post from London.

"Fear that my secret would get in the way of my dreams. Dreams of going to a World Cup, dreams of the Olympics, dreams of making my family proud."

He continued, "People love to preach about honesty, how honesty is so plain and simple. Try explaining to your loved ones after 25 years you are gay."

The soccer world, and sports world more generally, learned two things from Rogers' sentences.

One, his sexual orientation, and two, that professional sports and homosexuality are still not compatible, that no matter how many strides we as a society have made, or think we have made, they remain mutually exclusive -- a sort of "Don't ask, don't tell" code of the locker-room.

And we should find that very, very troubling.

For Rogers' bravery in coming forward and for the strides he has made on the path to internal peace, he should be applauded. But he should also be encouraged and supported.

That he felt he had to retire from soccer to move on with his life is an indicator of the discrimination he knows he'll receive from sections within the soccer community, and every possible step should be taken to bring him back into the game.

That "coming out" is so widely interpreted as some sort of "confession" is even more appalling, and it falls to the shoulders of the broader society, to the conscience of every individual, to rectify that. Rogers' words did not admit anything dangerous within himself. If anything, they revealed a world that is, itself, a danger to so many; a danger to their dreams.

But they also revealed a sense of freedom.

"I could not be happier with my decision," Rogers wrote. "Life is so full of amazing things. I realized I could only truly enjoy my life once I was honest."

Secrets are treacherous baggage. Anyone who has ever hidden anything -- depression, sexual orientation, love -- will know this full well.

As Rogers wrote, they "cause so much internal damage...the pain that lurks in the stomach at work, the pain from avoiding questions, and at last the pain from hiding such a deep secret."

Rogers will now go into the rest of his, into what he called in his blog "The Next Chapter," without the pain of that baggage. He is the co-owner of the menswear line Halsey, and given the beauty of the language in his blog post may have some work in writing ahead of him as well.

But behind him he'll leave a professional soccer career that included an MLS Cup in 2008 and 18 international appearances for the United States, including three at the Beijing Olympics. And that he is unable, at the age of 25, to continue that career as a gay man should be seen as a challenge to sporting authorities, fellow players and everyday fans.

Robbie Rogers is moving on, and in doing so has posed a question to the rest of us: Are we in the way of another's dreams?

jerradpeters@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2013 C8

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