Rogers during the match between the L.A. Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders (Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty)
Robbie Rogers made history last night. The soccer player made his debut with the L.A. Galaxy on Sunday, becoming the first openly gay male athlete to play in a U.S. professional league.
"I guess this is a historic thing, but for me it was just a soccer game," he said.
In February, Rogers retired from the sport - and he thought it might be permanent. He was 25 at the time, and he had just written a blog post revealing he was gay.
Rogers, who is from a conservative Christian family in the U.S., was playing for Leeds United in the UK. He left the team about a month before going public about his sexuality.
He was only the second gay professional footballer in Britain to come out in public. The first, Justin Fashanu, committed suicide in 1998 after speaking publicly about his sexuality.
Rogers told The Guardian that when he came out, he didn't plan to become "a spokesman for gay footballers." But the response he got changed his mind:
"After thousands of emails, I'm thinking, OK, how can I help others?" he said. "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 the football stereotype. That's one thing I definitely want to do - break some barriers and kill some stereotypes."
Back in April, Rogers started training with the Galaxy at the invitation of coach Bruce Arena. In his interview with The Guardian he mentioned that he was considering approaching Arena about training with the team.
The photo on the left, taken by Jeff Gross from Getty Images, is from last night's game - it shows Rogers with one of his fellow Galaxy players.
According to Rogers, his nerves ahead of the game had very little to do with his sexuality - he was worried about whether his soccer skills were still up to par. He hasn't played professionally for a while.
But his first match with the team went pretty well: he had five touches, one tackle and three completed passes in the final 13 minutes, as the Galaxy took down the Seattle Sounders 4-0.
Sigi Schmid, Seattle's coach, has known Rogers since he was seven years old.
Schmid sought the player out before the game to offer him support - and a hug. He told the Associated Press about how he reacted after hearing Rogers had retired from the sport.
"When he came out and said he was going to retire from playing, I sent him a text and said, 'Don't retire from playing because you came out. If you want to play, you should play. You'll be accepted,'" Schmid said.
Although Rogers is the first openly gay male athlete to play in a U.S. pro league, the NBA's Jason Collins made headlines when he came out recently via an piece in TIME Magazine.
Collins was honoured a few days back by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network's. He received the organization's Courage Award.
According to the event's program, "by coming out, Jason has broken monumental barriers for and raised the hopes of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) student athletes in K-12 schools."
After last night's game, Coach Schmid also commented on the changes he's seen in sports and soccer.
"It doesn't matter if you have a gay player on your team, it doesn't matter if you have a Jewish player on your team, it doesn't matter if you have a Baptist on your team," he said. "I think we're becoming more cognizant that it takes all sorts of people to make this world go round, and we're a lot more accepting of that."
Not everyone agrees with the statement that Rogers is the first openly gay pro athlete to play in a pro U.S. sports league. Outsports points to Andrew Goldstein, a Major League Lacrosse player who came out in 2005, as an earlier example.
Goldstein came out prior to going pro: he was open about his sexuality while in college, before being drafted into the NCAA.
Via CBC Sports