Confidence Game

photo ofRogers portrait
[caption id="attachment_8052" align="aligncenter" width="620"] Photo by Tom Jenkins / Getty Images[/caption]
LA Galaxy Player Comes Out, Stronger
by Lauren Brown Robbie Rogers came out as gay to a stranger at a bar in London. The pro soccer player, who had spent his entire 25 years wracked by the suffocating fear that his family, friends and fans would discover his homosexuality, just blurted it out one night to a woman who’d hit on him. It was so freeing that he summoned the courage over the next few weeks to tell his loved ones. Then he wrote a letter that he stored on his laptop for four months before posting it as a blog entry on Feb. 23, 2013. Today, Rogers, who played on the Terps’ national title-winning team in 2005, is part of the defending MLS champion LA Galaxy and the only openly gay man competing in a major American sport. He chronicled his lifelong struggle to come to terms with his sexuality in the autobiography “Coming Out to Play,” which was published in November. Now his story has inspired an upcoming ABC sitcom. And he’s become an outspoken advocate for gay rights in sports. “I never thought I would be this kind of person,” he says of his new role in an interview. “When something is so meaningful or I feel like I can make a difference, I want to voice my opinion.” Rogers grew up in Southern California learning to play soccer and absorbing homophobia at home and in the locker room. He was convinced that if anyone figured out he was gay, he’d never again be allowed to play the sport he loved. He planned to go pro after high school, but UMD soccer Coach Sasho Civorski, coming off three consecutive Final Four appearances, convinced Rogers to give Maryland a chance. “I told him I thought he was the missing piece to winning a championship,” Civorski says. “And the rest is history.” [caption id="attachment_8055" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Rogers_soccer Photo by Brad Smith / ISI Photo[/caption] Rogers, for his part, calls Civorski “amazing,” but left UMD after one year when he was recruited by a Dutch team. A year later, a homesick Rogers was back in the U.S. playing for the Columbus Crew. Even after that team won the MLS Cup, and he played in the U-20 FIFA World Cup and the 2008 Olympics, he says, he never felt joy. “I wasn’t open to the emotions of what was happening to my life,” he says. “I look back, and I’m sad just thinking about it. It was a constant feeling of being nervous and scared and a cramping feeling in my stomach.” In England, he was exhausted from quashing attractions to men and battling injuries when he decided he was done. Done playing soccer. Done hiding his secret. So he posted the blog he thought was a coming out/retirement announcement. But instead of a backlash, he soon discovered the global soccer community was congratulating him. He was touched by the thousands of emails and letters he received from gay men and women who said his courage gave them hope. The support he received spurred him to return to the sport and to use his role as a public figure to do good. He signed within weeks with the Galaxy. Since then, Rogers has headlined several anti-prejudice campaigns and wrote a USA Today column blasting FIFA for failing to support gay players. During a White House ceremony in February honoring the Galaxy for its national title, President Barack Obama singled out Rogers, saying he had “inspired a whole lot of folks here and around the world, and we are proud of you.” Rogers wrote that he still has a lot to learn about living an open life, but he predicts that “before long, no young LGBT athlete dreaming of a pro career will have to live in secrecy.”
ROBBIE ROGERS IS AMONG SEVERAL FORMER TERP SOCCER PLAYERS helping to start a scholarship memorializing the newborn son of a former teammate. Luca Wyatt DeLaGarza, the first child of A.J. ’08 and Megan (Viering) DeLaGarza ’09, died of a heart defect three days after his birth in September. A.J. DeLaGarza, like Rogers, plays for the Galaxy. He and his wife are from Southern Maryland, and both majored in criminal justice, so the new scholarship fund will support a student from Charles County with a major in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences.

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