Robbie Rogers has explained why coming out as gay meant he had to retire immediately as a professional footballer.
He had played on loan for Stevenage nine times during the football season, and then returned to play for Leeds United in January, before leaving by mutual consent in the same month.
Rogers, who competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics for the US, also runs menswear brand Halsey and said he wanted to concentrate on life outside of professional football.
Speaking to the Guardian in his first interview since retiring from professional football, Rogers talked about his younger years.
“I started feeling very different and it was a case of, ‘All right, I’m good at football and I get attention from girls. Why don’t I want that? What’s wrong with me?’ I realised I was gay when I was 14 or 15. I was like, ‘I want to play football. But there are no gay footballers. What am I going to do?'”
Rogers continued: “You feel such an outcast. I just couldn’t tell anyone because high school in the States is brutal. You’re going through puberty and kids can be vicious. I was lucky my older sisters were cool people and I was the football guy. All these things made it easier to mask myself. But it was also difficult. You have girls coming on to you and you’re like, ‘Shit, it would be a lot easier if they weren’t interested and I could just play football.’ I kept saying: ‘I can’t go out because I have training today or a match tomorrow.’”
Rogers forced himself to go out with girls as a way of blending in. “Yeah. I tried to change myself. I would date beautiful, intelligent, amazing girls – if I was straight maybe I would have been going nuts. Some of them are still my friends.”
After a year at the Dutch club Heerenveen, Rogers returned to America and joined Ohio’s Columbus Crew. He helped his team win the MLS Cup in 2008. “We won that trophy in LA, 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…’ 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.”
Rogers continued: “In football it’s obviously impossible to come out – because no-one has done it. No one. It’s crazy and sad. I thought: ‘Why don’t I step away and deal with this and my family and be happy?’ Imagine going to training every day and being in that spotlight? It’s been a bit of a circus anyway – but that would have been crazy. And you wouldn’t have much control because clubs are pushing you in different directions.
“I was just fearful. 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?”
Hearing homophobic remarks and anti-gay jokes from his teammates often made Rogers feel uncomfortable. “That was when I would get this awful feeling in my stomach. I would turn my head and try to chat about other things. They often don’t mean what they say. It’s that pack mentality – they’re trying to get a laugh, they’re trying to be the top guy. But it’s brutal. It’s like high school again – on steroids.”
“Football is an amazing sport,” Rogers says. “But it is also a brutal sport that picks people up and slams them on their heads. Adding the gay aspect doesn’t make a great cocktail.”
He believes it would have been “impossible” to have come out and continued playing at Leeds – or any other cub. “I don’t think I would have been able to go training the next day. That would be so scary. The guys might have said, ‘That’s great, Robbie.’ Maybe. But because no-one’s done it and because of the things I’ve heard in the dressing room I just thought: ‘I need to get away from this – make my announcement, find peace, go from there.’”