Robbie Rogers’s retirement heralds an important step in the history of football, that of the third professional footballer to come out as gay. Sadly, it also heralds the retirement of a man who was capped eighteen times by the United States National Team and who came to these shores on the recommendation of none other than Jurgen Klinsmann. Despite his struggles at Elland Road, there was clearly, at some point, enough about him to suggest he could go on to be a good footballer.
I could not even begin to imagine the difficulty of holding such a secret inside, even less could I begin to imagine the difficulty of holding such a secret inside whilst involved in such a masculine sport as football. Last season Robbie Rogers seemed to be within a group of outsiders, along with two players who never really got a chance at Leeds – Mikael Forssell and Mika Vayrynen. This season Robbie seemed to be ignored from the off, transfer listed along with Danny Pugh despite never really doing much wrong. By all accounts he had a semi-decent pre-season, at least no worse than some of the other players who were involved.
My concern therefore is that Robbie Rogers felt that Leeds United wasn’t a place he could be open about who he was, and came to struggle on the pitch given the mental anguish that he was suffering about his secret. The slightly more unhistorical nature of the MLS inspires less vitriol and less tension. Could Robbie have felt that, in coming to Leeds, he was expected to become the stereotypical image of a footballer? Whilst at Stevenage this season, it seemed less and less to be about football for Robbie and more about living life to its fullest.
I’m sad that Robbie felt he had to retire from football and leave Leeds United in order to open up to the world about who he was. Robbie Rogers will, on the back of a five-minute cameo, go down as the first gay captain of Leeds United. I hope that he didn’t feel that being gay was not an acceptable trait in an English-based footballer. I hope he wasn’t discriminated against for being gay whilst in England. I hope the English dressing room climate didn’t signal the end of his career.
Andy O’Brien suffered from depression and was almost hounded out of Leeds, now plying his trade on another continent. I hope that Robbie Rogers, for being ‘different’, didn’t feel as though he couldn’t discuss his issues, lest he’d be forced out of the club. I’m speculating and wouldn’t like to suggest anything, but on the back of today’s announcement, I feel Robbie needs to be seen as a further example of the problems in football. After all, he was only open when it was time for the end.
Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1).