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U.S. soccer star 'comes out' as gay

By James Masters, CNN
updated 12:00 PM EST, Mon February 18, 2013
Swimmer Ian Thorpe, seen here in 2004 with one of his five Olympic gold medals, told an Australian news outlet that he is gay in an interview that aired on Sunday, July 13. Click through to see other openly gay athletes. Swimmer Ian Thorpe, seen here in 2004 with one of his five Olympic gold medals, told an Australian news outlet that he is gay in an interview that aired on Sunday, July 13. Click through to see other openly gay athletes.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. soccer player Robbie Rogers has "come out" as gay and retired from the game
  • The 25-year-old had been playing in England with third-tier Stevenage until recently
  • He wrote on his blog: "Try explaining to your loved ones after 25 years you are gay"
  • Former teammates give their support following announcement

(CNN) -- U.S soccer star Robbie Rogers has "come out" as gay on the day he retired from the game Friday.

The former Columbus Crew winger represented America on 18 occasions, including at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

But Rogers, who was released from his deal by second-tier club Leeds United last summer before taking up a spot with third-tier Stevenage, revealed on his blog that he is homosexual and keen to seek a life away from football.

"Secrets can cause so much internal damage," Rogers wrote on his blog.

"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.

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"Try convincing yourself that your creator has the most wonderful purpose for you even though you were taught differently.

"I always thought I could hide this secret. Football was my escape, my purpose, my identity. Football hid my secret, gave me more joy than I could have ever imagined.

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"I will always be thankful for my career. I will remember Beijing, The MLS Cup, and most of all my teammates. I will never forget the friends I have made a long the way and the friends that supported me once they knew my secret.

"Now is my time to step away. It's time to discover myself away from football. It's 1 A.M. in London as I write this and I could not be happier with my decision.

"Life is so full of amazing things. I realized I could only truly enjoy my life once I was honest.

"Honesty is a b**** but makes life so simple and clear. My secret is gone, I am a free man, I can move on and live my life as my creator intended."

Rogers' announcement has seen former teammates flock to show their support, with U.S. international defender Oguchi Onyewu, tweeting: "Extremely proud of the courage from @robbierogers. Truth is not always easy to display, but truly strong people always find a way #RESPECT"

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U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden added on Twitter: "Much love and respect to my boy @robbierogers ! Proud to be your friend bro."

Rogers' retirement means there are still no openly gay players participating in professional football in Europe with the exception of Swedish-based Anton Hysen.

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It was hoped that Hysen's coming out, which attracted headlines the world over in March 2011, would pave the way for other gay footballers to take similar steps.

But not since the tragic loss of Justin Fashanu has a top-flight league witnessed an openly gay professional football player.

Fashanu, who committed suicide in 1998, became the first £1 million black player in the history of English football when he signed for Nottingham Forest in 1981.

While at Forest, constant rumors and speculation surrounded his private life with concocted allegations of affairs with Conservative MPs.

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With the rumors continuing throughout his career, he finally came out in 1990 and continued to play for a whole host of lower league clubs.

"You have to understand," he said in an interview before his death, "that footballers are very narrow minded people. It's the nature of the business. When you put yourself in the firing line, you are open to attack. I know I'm there to be shot down in flames."

Following his passing, one particular group of fans would recite the chant: "He's gay, he's dead, he's hanging in a shed, Fashanu, Fashanu."

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While there has been huge progress since those dark days, the presence of homophobia in football has not been extinguished.

Only this week, police launched an investigation into allegations that a Blackburn Rovers footballer made homophobic gestures towards Brighton fans during an English second division match.

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Brighton, which is situated on the south coast, has a large gay population and its fans are often targeted with homophobic chants.

"I think there's a big culture shift needed within football from the grassroots to the top of the game," Louise Englefield of FootballvHomophobia told CNN

"The top of the game is a symptom of a much wider issue about lack of awareness and ignorance around the ability of gay men to participate and excel at football

"When you've got a lack of gay players at the top level, then it's easy for that environment to be quite negative.

"I imagine there are players who are reticent to come out."

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While other sports have embraced their gay stars, such as John Amaechi in basketball, Martina Navratilova in tennis and Gareth Thomas in rugby, football has yet to move with the times.

Off the field, the UK Parliament backed a bill to legalize gay marriage earlier this month as society continues to move forward.

And while football has yet to move with the times, progress is being made.

Premier League and Football League clubs in the UK have created several initiatives to combat homophobia, working alongside charities such as HvF.

"Within football, people don't understand the seriousness of homophobia," added Englefield.

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"The things fans shout at players, they believe it's not hurting them and they don't care if they're gay or not.

"Homophobia is used to put players down and it's a way of deriding players. That's cultural all the way through football and happens in other sports.

"When a player gives a pass away or falls over, fans use homophobia abuse to put them down and it's that which we want to stop.

"One of our key things is changing chanting in the stadium. Stop and think before you chant."

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A particular success story in England has been the creation of the GFSN Gay National League, where "gay friendly" teams compete on a regular basis.

Rogers' story has been met with admiration from fellow gay football players, but his retirement from the game means that the community is still waiting for a player to come out and continue playing.

"The great pity with Robbie is that he felt it was an 'either or choice,' " Scott Lawley, who plays for Nottingham Ball Bois in the GFSN Gay National League told CNN.

"Reading his blog, it felt as if he thought he had no choice but to quit football if he wanted come out.

"He could have easily retired without coming out but he's been very brave and hopefully set us in the right direction.

"He hasn't forced us to the point where a gay man runs out in front of 30,000 people to play football

"And the fact that no professional player has come out in recent years means there are still issues to deal with.

"But we will come to that day when we do have openly gay players in the top divisions and we're moving in the right direction."

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