Monday, June 17, 2013

How Robbie Rogers Lost My Respect

Look, I get it. Robbie Rogers’ return to MLS is a big deal. He’s a talented kid, he can very probably make his team better, and it’s notable that he is the first actively playing out gay man in a major team sport. But Robbie did some really selfish things on his not-very-long journey from Leeds back to the US, and the sum of those actions is a complete loss of my respect for him.

It’s not that he didn’t want to play in Europe, it’s not that he didn’t want to play for Chicago, it’s not even that he wanted to be close to home. It’s the way he went about accomplishing each of these goals that completely turned me off.

Robbie’s decision to “train” with a team he had no contract with was a little off-putting, but I was willing to let it go. He’s a young guy, he wanted to stay in shape, and LA is home for him. That’s fine. I’m also okay with him not being interested in playing for Chicago. He never had any connection to the city, contractual or otherwise, and I can absolutely understand being bitter that the rights to his services were handed over without his knowledge or consent. Again, no problem there.

Dragging the entire thing into the open to force his will upon the entire league? No. Not okay.

By going public with his unwillingness to play in Chicago and his assertion that he’d only play for the Galaxy, he effectively forced the league’s hand. MLS as an entity couldn’t be seen as mistreating such an “iconic” figure as Rogers by not granting him his wish to go home. So now there were five parties to this so-called negotiation: Rogers, the Galaxy, the Fire, MLS, and all of us.

There’s not a doubt in my mind that if Rogers tells Don Garber, “I don’t want to play for Chicago, I want to play for Los Angeles, and I don’t think I want to play at all otherwise”, a deal would have been struck. It would have been a PR coup for the league to retrieve Rogers from the bench on a third-tier English team in the first place, but giving him the chance to go home would have been an added benefit…if all of this was done under cover of darkness. Everybody would have won.

Instead, Rogers posted on Twitter about needing to be near his family during this time, attempting to recruit the media and the public to his cause. And it worked; MLS got the trade figured out (with a supposedly complicit Mike Magee on his way to Chicago), LA got another high-profile player, the league got all the good press of being the first “big five” league in the US with an out active player, and Rogers got back on the field.

I find myself in the extremely complicated position of having helped lead a successful Pride Night recently and hating the bleeding guts of the only out male player in the league. I want to call attention to the many gay athletes that came before him and remind everyone that this is less historic than people want to believe. I want to remind everyone of Billie Jean King, Greg Louganis, Esera Tuaolo, Andrew Goldstein, Jason Collins, and Sheryl Swoopes.

Robbie is not an icon – he is not the first gay athlete, he is not the first out gay athlete, he is not the first out gay male athlete, he is not the first out gay male athlete in team sports, he is not the first out gay male athlete in “major” team sports. He is (arguably) the first out gay male athlete in “major” team sports to appear in a game.

Have we covered all of the “firsts” now? Can we stop talking about this? Can I feel safe in considering Rogers to be a jackass for the way he forced the trade? Can I, as a gay man, give absolutely no damn about the fact that Rogers is the only gay athlete in the league and judge the hell out of him for the same things I’d judge straight athletes for?

Robbie doesn’t get a free pass because he happens to be more interested in pants bulges than in cleavage. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a guy who used all of us to force a trade to another team. That’s not okay in my book, and he’s lost my respect as a result.

Author's note: This entry was originally written for another website, but the site's editor declined to publish the post.