The world of football is one of closed ranks when it comes to sexual orientation. There are names but they will not be named. As recently as last summer Antonio Cassano responding to rumours that there were a couple of team mates in the Azzurri Euro 2012 squad who were gay, landed in hot water for saying, "The coach had warned me that you would ask me this question," Cassano said. "If I say what I think ... I hope there are none. But if there are queers here, that's their business." In other words, it was don't ask, don't tell.
Robbie Rogers, the former MLS player, recently released from Leeds Utd, came out as gay in a powerful post on his site. His announcement on Twitter set ablaze a myriad of positive reactions, from his former team mates in Leeds, the MLS, and the USMNT, showing their support and appreciation. He also announced that he would be taking an indefinite break from the sport.
What a change in the last two decades. Everyone knows the story of Justin Fashanu, who paid the price for coming out. Hounded by homophobes and a cold hearted Brian Clough, his career stalled, and as the walls closed in, finally ended his life. A recent Der Spiegel article also drew attention to the minefield a footballer faced in the event of his coming out, leading almost all save one brave soul with nothing to lose to cocoon themselves in a shadowy, double life. The Mannschafts's recent emphasis on eye catching footballing displays was derided by Michael Ballack's agent as unwelcome change brought on by a "bunch of gays" on the team.
Soccer has been slow to catch up on the equality front, even behind its NFL counterpart, what with former 49ers offensive linesman Kwame Harris recently charged with battery against his on and off partner for an argument over soy sauce that escalated (what straight couple has not fought over condiments, eh?) but as a 260 lb OL, the degree is a bit more extreme physically. Even rugby has its gay icon. Soccer, however, is still ruled by knuckle draggers like Joey Barton, who now thankfully uses his Twitter feed to settle personal feuds rather than cigarette butts or gouging eyes.
The recent Super Bowl was dogged by some pre match medieval jibing by 49ers safety Chris Culliver, who seemed to be more Kansas than Castro. But Brendon Ayanbadejo, the Baltimore Ravens LB, who sacked all the same sex bigotry of his sport, by backing marriage equality about three years ago was having none of it and framed his rebuttal in the most eloquent terms. For his part, Culliver had already apologized for his remarks, sort of.
Ayanbadejo was by now a cause celebre and when his First Amendment rights were infringed by a homophobe state senator, Chris Kluwe, the Minnesota Vikings punter, took it on himself penning a hard hitting riposte that tore a new one.
One would also like to think that Barack Obama helped foster this openness by his vocal support for gay rights and marriage equality in the USA, the first president to do so, and as someone who likes his sports, in toto, for sportspeople too. Rogers was also preceded by Megan Rapinoe who came out last year and she has never been more on fire. All of this still does not make his decision any less fraught. Its brave of him to do so. Robbie Rogers, you are a mensch. Free your mind, the rest will follow.