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Wait a minute! Didn’t Robbie Rogers already break this professional sports gay barrier?

Apr 30, 2013, 10:45 AM EDT

Rogers 3 Getty Images

Big media has put the game we love in its place today. A big news story has reminded us that Major League Soccer is, in most ways, only as “major” as the big media influencers choose to label it.

Major League Soccer is looking a little less “major” today based on the flowing narratives of the Jason Collins news.

By extension, the implication is that “soccer” isn’t a major sport in the country. TV ratings for big EPL matches, Champions League biggies and World Cup contests – not to mention the collective U.S. audiences for soccer each and every weekend when folding in viewership of Mexican matches and the sundry European offerings – tell us otherwise. But that’s too complicated for the expedient sound bites, so let’s not allow those inconvenient facts interfere with a story easily told.

It is what it is, I suppose.

Collins is the NBA center who came out Monday, and the narrative has been “first player to come out in a major U.S. sport.”

Of course, Robbie Rogers did this very thing in February. Rogers wasn’t just some “former MLS man.”  He was in the prime of his career (although struggling mightily to gain his balance in performance, probably related to his February revelation). And as Rogers had only recently tumbled in the national team scene, it would hardly be inaccurate to label him a “U.S. international,” which should elevate his place in the media zeitgeist.

There is no question that NBA is a much bigger beast in the domestic sports forest. Collins’ revelation is a bigger story, no doubt.

But shouldn’t Rogers’ revelation be part of this conversation? It didn’t seem to be as I saw the story told across most major outlets, on TV, on radio and in the online sports pages.

(MORE: Rogers’ overwhelming, inspiring support from American soccer)

At least in our world, Rogers place was recognized. For instance, Fox Soccer’s Leander Schaerlaeckens wrote about how Rogers’ story helped to pace a smoother landing strip for Collins and others still circling life’s outer markers, with the relevant mentions of David Testo and Megan Rapinoe.

But bigger media mostly ignored the same.

David Beckham was supposed to help do something about this. That was always going to be Beckham’s target and his legacy in macro, in the much larger picture: to drag MLS and pro soccer here out of niche status and into more general market awareness.

I thought Beckham had accomplished that to a reason degree. Now, I suppose, that “reasonable degree” didn’t extend as far as I thought.

  1. valiantdraws - Apr 30, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    Ya know, part of the problem is that Rogers decided he wasn’t going to play soccer anymore. Which makes him a “Former MLS Man”…indeed a “Former professional Soccer Player”. maybe if he kept playing, it would have been a bigger story.

    Collins is still active, and still trying to play.

    • bob3612 - Apr 30, 2013 at 2:06 PM

      Yeah, this is the whole point. Every outlet has been saying that Collins is the first ACTIVE male athlete in a major professional sport to come out. What Rogers did was certainly courageous in its own way, but there have been several athletes who have come out after retiring.

      This post reads as if it’s trying to make MLS a victim. But Collins himself has mentioned Rogers, and SI included MLS as one of the country’s major leagues in its online poll of reader reactions to the Collins news.

  2. Josh - Apr 30, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    While I can agree that big media does not give soccer its due, I think your argument is a bit misplaced.

    Jason Collins’ announcement is not a huge deal because he is the first in a “major” sport to come out as gay. he’s not even the first basketball player to do so. His announcement is major news because he’s the first ACTIVE player to come out as gay. No other individual in any American sport has ever done that before.

    Robbie’s announcement was important, but he promptly retired. He has not since had to step into a professional locker room. Collins — assuming he is picked up by a team (he’s currently a free agent) — will be playing in the NBA next season. I know there’s a lot of speculation about whether Rogers is going to make a comeback, but until he actually does, he’s a different slice of gay athlete — the retired gay athlete. If and when he’s getting paid to play again, he’ll be fighting the same fight as Collins — dealing with breaking the perceptions and stereotype of teammates and fans.

    • randomhookup - Apr 30, 2013 at 11:19 AM

      First active MALE player… plenty of out players in women’s basketball and soccer. (Especially when you say no “individual in any American sport has ever done that.)

  3. miketoddryan - Apr 30, 2013 at 11:03 AM

    I thought this exact same thing yesterday when listening to Colin Cowherd, America doesn’t respect soccer plain and simple.

  4. wandmdave - Apr 30, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    I said the same thing. And it still chaps my ass a little that some major US sports are a popular as they are (looking at you baseball). However after thinking about it the soccer audience is fragmented between several leagues not just MLS, MLS TV coverage is still awful (but improving) and therefore ratings are low, and almost no one over 30 or 40 even knows what your talking about when you say MLS. I feel that last one is the major hurdle but I don’t see soccer breaking into the old school sports fan’s consciousness ever. That generation is going to have to die off before all general sports fans recognize soccer so we have at least generation or two to go before soccer has a chance to be entrenched in the general US sports landscape.

    I hate waiting though.

  5. chadmoon1 - Apr 30, 2013 at 11:27 AM

    Acorp11, you are off base. Yes, it was a great thing for Collins to do. But it has already been done by Robbie Rogers. The beef that Steve has is that soccer has been put in the backwater again, even though it had a player do it first.

    And don’t give me that Collins is “active”. He averaged 1 point and 1 rebound a game for the Washington Wizards!!! Maybe he will and maybe he won’t play again. I’d say Rogers has more of a chance to get a contract with Columbus (or another MLS team, I’ll take him here in Dallas any day) than Collins has of catching on with another NBA team.

    • soonerfan237 - Apr 30, 2013 at 11:39 AM

      His scoring average and playing time has nothing to do with it. The important part of the narrative is that he (an openly gay player) will be with the team at games, at practice, in the lockerroom, etc. That’s why this story is so different from all the others (including Robbie Rogers). Whether or not he’s good at basketball at this stage in his career is completely irrelevant.

    • valiantdraws - Apr 30, 2013 at 12:13 PM

      Soonerfan237 summed it up nicely for me.

    • chadmoon1 - May 1, 2013 at 11:44 AM

      Guys, Collins is no more active than Robbie Rogers now.

      He announced he was gay this week. Do you think the Washington Wizards are hard at work training and practicing for the playoffs? Hell no, they suck and are nowhere near each other now. Collins is a free agent. He is in his mid 30’s. He averaged 1 point and 1 rebound per game for them. And they suck!!!! There is no guaruntee (I hate that word, never can spell it right) that Collins will ever play again.

      Robbie Rogers will be playing in MLS before Collins laces ’em up for an NBA team, which will make Rogers the 1st openly gay athlete playing in a major USA league.

  6. 1luckyelf - Apr 30, 2013 at 11:40 AM

    I don’t disagree with the observations, for the most part, but some of this (the difference in publicity) IMHO, is due to degree to which RR and Jason Collins do or do not run contrary to stereotypes. Robbie Rogers is a very good-looking (almost ‘pretty’) somewhat slightly-built white guy who has been interning at a men’s health magazine.

    Jason Collins, nice, intelligent, educated, middle-class fellow though he may be, is a 7 ft tall 255lb black man who is known for, among other things, his willingness to set hard picks, give a good foul, and generally be seen as one of those NBA ‘tough guy’ vets who do the dirty work. He fits less with what people were ‘expecting’ in a gay male athlete than Rogers does. And I think that does explain some of the difference.

    • djrrockthepitch - Apr 30, 2013 at 12:18 PM

      wtf does black/white, tall/short, etc have to do with this? As previously stated in these comments, Jason Collins is an ACTIVE male athlete – that’s the story here. Rogers is currently retired. I’m sure if he was still active his announcement would have received much more attention.

      • 1luckyelf - Apr 30, 2013 at 12:27 PM

        You can call Collins active if you wish, but the fact of the matter is, he’s without contract. Until someone signs him, he’s as active as Robbie Rogers is. The vast, vast majority of professional athletes do not ‘retire’, it’s that nobody offers them a chance to play anymore. David Testo still wanted to play. No-one wanted him. When Collins is actually playing NBA games, he’ll be active. Until then he’s a 34 year old out-of-work pro athlete. Aside from which, Robbie Rogers is more than capable of playing in a MLS match before the start of the next NBA season. Say he does? Do you honestly think it will match the Collins story coverage?

      • djrrockthepitch - Apr 30, 2013 at 12:46 PM

        Nope. It won’t match it. Soccer is not as big as basketball. Jason Collins made his announcement and is still looking to work. Rogers retired. Big difference in my opinion. If he was still active, looking for work, or whatever, probably more coverage – but still, not as much as an ‘active’ NBA (or MLB, NFL, NHL) player coming out. It’s just a reality in this country at this point of time. It is immature and a step backwards for anyone to suggest that Rogers’ story didn’t get more coverage because of what people ‘expect’ a gay athlete to look like or act like.

  7. mikeevergreen - Apr 30, 2013 at 2:24 PM

    I don’t know why Rogers retired…might it be that he was Chicago Fire property, and that he wanted to go back to Columbus Crew when he came back to the US?

  8. LT - Apr 30, 2013 at 4:27 PM

    It’s not a major sport. He wasn’t active. He retired. It’s not the same. It doesn’t matter.

    That’s all crap. EVERY person’s coming out story matters. Robbie’s, Jason’s, Megan’s, Billie Jean King’s. When you marginalize one, you marginalize all.

    I’m proud of all of these athletes for choosing to live freely, and I hope more will follow.

    • wesbadia - May 1, 2013 at 8:59 AM

      I’m a heterosexual male and I make that known. Am I choosing to “live freely” in your opinion?

  9. ndnut - Apr 30, 2013 at 6:03 PM

    You would have a point if Rogers had not retired. RR should be in the conversation of promoting change, but not “breaking the barrier.”

  10. seanb20124 - Apr 30, 2013 at 8:11 PM

    Soccer thinks a bit highly of itself in the USA.

  11. travishenryskid - Apr 30, 2013 at 10:14 PM

    You nailed it when you said that the EPL, Champions League and World Cup get great ratings. The MLS is minor league compared to the things that actually matter in soccer. NFL, NBA and NHL are the best leagues in the world. How far down the line is the MLS in comparison to the true major leagues? A Lot.

    • jdfsquared - May 1, 2013 at 11:00 AM

      True that. Hard to hear, but not wrong. When the money starts flowing to MLS, then we’ll jump rungs in the ladder.

  12. jdfsquared - May 1, 2013 at 10:54 AM

    Steve, I had the same reactions while reading the coverage. My real objection is that there is constant reference to the FOUR MAJOR AMERICAN TEAM SPORTS. This is what needs to change over the next few years. Eternal thanks to NBC and this site for giving MLS its proper due, but the mothership (and consequently most sports writers in this country) simply won’t take their fingers out of their ears.

    The real issue I have with the Rogers comparison, besides the ones stated above, is that he WAS NOT PLAYING AN AMERICAN TEAM SPORT. Yes, soccer is played here, but he WAS PLAYING IN ENGLAND when he came out.

    When we get the TV ratings and SC has to air the weekly highlights and talk about the league, then there’ll be five. It’s kind of like the gay issue itself. Attitudes just have to change, and new generations have to come into power.

  13. orvillelloyddouglas - May 1, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    I can see Steve’s point, honestly Jason Collins didn’t do it first Robbie Rogers did. Rogers came out in February and soccer is a team sport. However, since soccer isn’t as popular as the NBA, Collins gets more press. Robbie Rogers also didn’t come out because he wanted to get on the cover of Sports Illustrated like Jason Collins. I have a hard time seeing Collins as some hero, the guy is 34 years old he’s at the end of his career, he’s a journeyman and not a star. By contrast, Robbie Rogers came out during his prime he’s still young only 25, and he’s an international soccer star. When Rogers came out it was huge news in England and the rest of the world. Rogers is only the second professional male soccer player to come out. Rogers didn’t get his due because he’s a soccer player which is unfortunate.

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