The body that represents footballers in England may step up efforts to help gay players
Professional Footballers' Association reacting to Robbie Rogers' first media interview
Former U.S. international says it is 'impossible' to come out while still playing football
The body that represents England’s professional footballers says it still has work to do to enable gay footballers to come out while still playing the game.
Bobby Barnes, the Deputy Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), was speaking after Robbie Rogers, who quit the sport on the day he revealed his homosexuality last month, said it was “impossible to come out” while still playing.
In his first media interview since, Rogers – a former United States international who was playing in the English football league earlier this season – admitted concerns about how both the dressing room and fans would react to news of an openly gay player.
Having played for third tier Stevenage on loan earlier this season, the 25-year-old was released by parent club Leeds United in January, days before retiring from football when coming out through his personal website on February 18.
“I think the PFA – along with all the stakeholders – have a responsibility to perhaps redouble our efforts if players do not feel that enough is being done,” Barnes told CNN.com.
“I think football has tried hard to create an environment where there is a supportive network around a player should he decide to come out as a gay.”
Nonetheless, Rogers did not feel the environment was conducive to staying in the English game after his announcement and says he would have found it hard to come out at any global club – after being asked whether he could have done so during a 2007-2011 stint with MLS side Columbus Crew.
“No. Not at any club – anywhere,” Rogers told England’s The Guardian newspaper.
Rogers is only the second footballer in England to have come out, with Justin Fashanu – the first £1 million black player in the country’s football history – having tragically committed suicide in 1998, eight years after revealing his sexuality while still a professional.
At present, Sweden-based Anton Hysen is the only openly gay footballer although other sportsmen have come out in different disciplines, such as Puerto Rican boxer Orlando Cruz, Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas and English cricketer Steven Davies.
In a wide-ranging interview, Rogers revealed the internal strife he went through when trying to reconcile his love of playing football for a living with his desire to be honest with those closest to him.
After Columbus Crew won the MLS Cup in 2008, what should have been a night of collaborative celebration for the winger – who won 18 caps with the U.S. while also representing his nation at the 2008 Olympic Games – turned to individual torment instead.
“We won that trophy in Los Angeles, in front of my family, with this amazing team. Afterwards we went to a bar and I was like, ‘I should be so happy now…’,” Rogers recalled.
“But I left after a few drinks and sat on my own in my room, thinking, ‘OK. I’m gay. But I can’t come out because I love football so much. What am I going to do?’”
“The more successful you become, the harder it is to step away.”
Yet that is precisely what he did, despite being at an age where he had yet to reach his peak, with most footballers performing best in their late 20’s.
Barnes, who believes that Rogers’ revelation received a positive response all round, with “nothing negative”, feels the American may have been pleasantly surprised had he felt empowered enough to continue in the game after his announcement.
“I don’t think he tested the water as such – in that he had already made his decision to quit when the announcement was made – but I hope he would have found a much more supportive arena,” he said.
“I think the attitude now is far more: ‘A player is gay, so what?’ We don’t see it as a major issue and I do not believe players do either.
“The big concern, I feel, is the negativity that players might receive from the terraces.”
Rogers, who says he was 14-15 when he realized he was gay and who sometimes dated girls as a cover for his sexuality, did have concerns about his teammates however, in addition to those about supporters.
“Maybe a lot of fans aren’t homophobic. But, in a stadium, sometimes they want to destroy you,” he said.
“I was very fearful how my teammates were going to react. Was it going to change them? Even though I’d still be the same person would it change the way they acted towards me – when we were in the dressing room or the bus?”
Even if he has yet to hear from another gay footballer in the game, Rogers has been so inundated with support from fellow players and the public that he has mixed feelings on his future.
“About a month ago I would’ve thought: ‘I don’t want to be a spokesman for gay footballers.’ I have so many different things I’m interested in.
“But after thousands of emails, I’m thinking, OK, how can I help others? How can I make some positive change? How am I going to reach young Robbie and tell him to be himself?
“He might not fit the gay or football stereotype. That’s one thing I definitely want to do – break some barriers and kill some stereotypes.”
And most intriguingly, a man who is weighing up a career in fashion and who co-owns a clothing label (Halsey) is finding himself being seduced by an old flame – his former profession itself.
“Football will always be part of me. I don’t know if I’m done playing yet. I might ask [the coach] Bruce Arena if I can train with LA Galaxy – we’ll see. I miss it and think about it a lot.
“But I’m so happy now I don’t want to mess with that. Football was my life and maybe I’ll need to go back … or maybe I’ll just be a fan. But it’s an industry where there are lots of problems – from sketchy agents to homophobic culture.”