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Robbie Rogers Deserves Plaudits but Retiring Is Not the Answer to Bigots

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 24:  Robbie Rogers #18 of the Columbus Crew controls the ball against the Los Angeles Galaxy on September 24, 2011 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.   (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Ian RodgersChief Writer IVNovember 5, 2016

Former Leeds United and United States winger Robbie Rogers deserves the plaudits and support that have been coming his way since he came out as gay on his blog on Friday.

The 25-year-old, who was on loan at Stevenage this season, had seen his career at Elland Road blighted by injury since joining the club on a recommendation from USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann to former Leeds boss Simon Grayson in January 2012.

However, the key phrase in the former Columbus Crew, Leeds and United States midfielder's statement wasn't his sexuality, it was his declaration that, "It’s time to discover myself away from football".

Coming out and remaining in the game are still at opposite ends of the spectrum and, consequently, we are waiting still for the first openly gay professional footballer since Justin Fashanu to emerge while playing.

Even now, though, Fashanu's brother John, who played for Wimbledon and Aston Villa, insists his sibling was seeking attention as he told talkSPORT in March 2012.

But that account differs significantly from the view held by former Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough, who paid £1 million to sign Fashanu from Norwich City, who recounted a conversation with the striker in his autobiography Clough: The Autobiography as retold by the Daily Telegraph.

When John Fashanu's daughter, Amal, made a documentary about her uncle for the BBC, she unearthed her father's views at the time, as the Daily Mail reported in January 2012.

In February 1999, Chelsea defender Graeme Le Saux was taunted about his sexuality by Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler as he prepared to take a free-kick during a match at Stamford Bridge as BBC Sport reported. Le Saux, who was an England teammate of Fowler's, was university-educated and did not follow the 'laddish' template set by footballers.

Former Arsenal and Tottenham defender Sol Campbell was also the target for gay taunts by Spurs fans while he was playing for Portsmouth in September 2008, as the Daily Mail reported. Neither Le Saux nor Campbell are gay.

More recently, Italy international Antonio Cassano apologised before being fined for his ill-advised comments about gay footballers during Euro 2012 (BBC Sport).

The spectre of neanderthals in football is nothing new. For those of us of a certain vintage, hooliganism and unbridled racism were part and parcel of football in the not-so-distant past.

Monkey noises and terrace fighting were all part of the culture for the ignorant at football matches.

We live in more enlightened times these days, but the fight against both elements is still ongoing despite the giant strides made in eradicating both from the football scene.

Homosexuality, though, remains a different matter and the only instance across Europe of an openly gay male playing is Anton Hysen, who represents Utsiktens BK in the Swedish third division. Hysen, who is the son of former Liverpool and Sweden defender Glenn, came out in Swedish football magazine in March 2011.

West Ham midfielder Matt Jarvis appeared on the front cover of gay magazine Attitude and proudly declared his support for homosexual players (The Guardian). But, while the support of Jarvis and other leading figures in the game is welcome, nobody is coming forward.

Consider also the inevitable media attention which will follow a male player coming out and the odds will continue to stack up against someone making the move. Rogers has become a trending topic on the internet over the last 24 hours, but it is not his career which is dominating the search engines.

Rogers has made a brave move by declaring his homosexuality, but his decision to immediately retire from football serves only to underline that homophobia is alive and well in men's football.

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