Zack Goldman, pensive on the recent public statements of Robbie Rogers & Jozy Altidore
In an open letter on his website today, Robbie Rogers came out as gay, announced that he is stepping away indefinitely from professional soccer and unknowingly invited a torrent of support from US fans that was not unexpected if you’ve been following along with the recent narratives of domestic soccer.
The announcement, just a year and a half after Rogers scored the equalizer against Mexico in Jürgen Klinsmann’s coaching debut, has sent—and is still sending—shockwaves through the world of sports.
And, that response—from American soccer fans, at least—has been overwhelming and unwavering in its support for a 25-year-old who clearly has felt a weighted shroud over keeping his orientation private for long. It’s hard to wonder what it is like to walk around a world that is often not speaking your language, through advertisement, through innuendo, through media or whatever.
I’ve had the great fortune of seeing a lot of incredible moments in U.S. Soccer history, but nothing has fueled me with the pride that I have felt this past month as American players and fans have stood united in support of human rights and dignity.
First, there was Jozy Altidore’s level-headed, articulate, and forceful response towards the racism he encountered during a Dutch Cup match against Den Bosch. Now, a community rallies around Rogers’s powerful personal statement, which speaks honestly to the difficulty of revealing who you truly are, whilst also addressing the issue of homosexuality in soccer.
A mere discussion of homosexuality’s existence in the sport is often labeled as taboo by those within the game. It is a silence that often obstructs any kind of legitimate discourse on the topic, much less any meaningful action in an attempt to ease the burden on ‘potential’ gay players (hint: they exist). Rules and disciplinary action for those that prejudice gay players may be prevalent, but efforts to truly integrate and push acceptance, nay, standardization for those of an “alternate” persuasion are invisible.
Rogers eloquently and panoptically addresses the issue from the perspective of his own story—and it’s an honesty that will no doubt help others in similar situations struggling with the same search for peace and true self-discovery in the future. And further, one can’t help but wonder what struggles Rogers may have had to deal with growing up in a religious family.
Both Altidore’s post-match interview and Rogers’s letter represent astute, heartfelt, and mature views of monumental societal issues at a time when too few, both within and outside of sports, are ready to admit that we have a problem addressing them.
Instead—had Rogers not made his statement today—the narrative would have been about not creating faux role models out of athletes in the wake of the alleged actions of Oscar Pistorius.
Meanwhile role models are sitting there right in front of our very eyes.
These are two courageous actions from two men who make it rewarding and prideful to be a US fan regardless of the result on the field and whether Jermaine Jones should start or not.
The great thing about the responses of Altidore and Rogers are that they’ve done more than bring issues of racism and homophobia to the fore.
Hearing these men deliver such powerful, moving, and human rebuttals to prejudice has been, at the risk of sounding reductive, inspirational. To borrow the phrase Thierry Henry’s anti-racism campaign used during his years in England, events like these enliven a desire to “stand up, speak out.”
Altidore and Rogers have spawned responses that are more than plain indifference—a polite, accepting “okay” or “whatever floats your boat.” They have solicited something much more than a blind eye.
Rather, for American fans in the past fortnight, they have engendered a pride in our diversity—a pride in our ability to recognize it, to embody it, to celebrate it, and to defend it. The American ethos alive and well with cleats and a ball.
It has made me realize that the best part of being a fan of U.S. Soccer has nothing to do with goals or results, but the culture of openness, acceptance, and togetherness that is emerging as part of the fabric of our game. At a time when tribalism and bigotry have unfortunately had such a huge impact on global football, it is a quality that cannot be taken for granted, nor can its importance be emphasized enough.
This isn’t a forum for debate, but Sepp Blatter may have suggested that US soccer growth is not what his expectation was after 1994, but I say that US soccer is the beacon, is leading the sport. Sepp’s overtones are to “grow the game…..”
Haven’t Altidore and Rogers done just that?
I–US fan, writer, American–am proud of Robbie Rogers. I am proud of his American teammates for their supportive words. And, I am proud of U.S. Soccer supporters for embodying our nation’s celebrated credo: E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.
Here’s hoping we see Robbie Rogers back on the field soon, in a sport that is more open and accepting than the one he left behind. As the great Eddie Pope so wonderfully wrote to Rogers earlier today: “Brave men like you will make it so that one day there’s no need for an announcement. That day can’t arrive soon enough.”