'Trailblazer' Robbie Rogers retires after 11-year pro career

Robbie Rogers, the first openly gay male athlete to play in one of the top five team sports in North America, has announced his retirement after an 11-year pro career, the last five seasons of which were spent with the Los Angeles Galaxy, with which he won his second MLS Cup.

The Californian Rogers made 89 appearances for the Galaxy since returning from Europe in 2013 but the 30-year-old had been sidelined with an ankle injury in this season. After winning an NCAA championship with Maryland in 2005, Rogers started his pro career with Dutch club SC Heerenveen in 2006 before joining the Columbus Crew in 2007. He started in the Crew’s 3-1 2008 MLS Cup victory over the New York Red Bulls.

His second venture to Europe included stints with English clubs Leeds United and Stevenage. When he came out as gay in 2013 at age 25, he announced his retirement, believing that an openly gay player would not be accepted in professional soccer. "Football is an amazing sport. But it is also a brutal sport that picks people up and slams them on their heads. Adding the gay aspect doesn't make a great cocktail," he told The Guardian.

During a practice session with his English club, Stevenage, where he played on loan from Leeds United, a coach said, “You guys are passing the ball like faggots.”

However, Rogers received an overwhelming support from MLS, U.S. Soccer, former MLS and national team teammates, and coaches such as Sigi Schmid, his former Columbus coach, and Bruce Arena, who invited Rogers to train with the Galaxy team he restarted his career with.

“It is with mixed emotions that I announce my retirement from the game of soccer,” said Rogers. “It is through this game that I have experienced some of my greatest achievements both professionally and personally and I am forever indebted to the numerous individuals – coaches, teammates, staff and fans – that have helped me during this journey. I want to personally thank Mr. Anschutz, Dan Beckerman and the entire AEG family for the opportunities and continual support they have given me during my time with the LA Galaxy.

“I would like to thank Bruce Arena for encouraging me to return to professional soccer after I came out as a gay man. I’d also like to thank all of my LA Galaxy teammates for accepting me from the first day I stepped back into the locker room at StubHub Center. Finally, I’d like to thank the fans for their continued support throughout my career. I’ll never forget the feeling of returning to the field in my first game back. That feeling of acceptance and support pushed me as an athlete and as a person.”

Rogers appeared 18 times for the U.S. national team in 2009-2011, scoring twice. He also played in all five games for the USA in its quarterfinal run at the 2007 U-20 World Cup that included a wins over Uruguay and Brazil.

When the Galaxy was invited to the White House after its 2014 MLS Cup win, President Barack Obama said:

"I want to recognize what Robbie Rogers of the Galaxy has done for a lot of people by blazing a trail as one of professional sports' first openly gay players. My guess is that as an athlete Robbie wants to win first and foremost, that's what competition is all about. But Robbie, you've also inspired a whole lot of folks here and around the world, and we are very proud of you."

Rogers' retirement, however, means that there are no openly gay men in U.S. pro team sports.

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