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Is MLS being naïve about Robbie Rogers’ return and how it might be seen?

May 5, 2013, 6:10 PM EDT

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Getting Robbie Rogers back into MLS uniform would be wonderful for everyone, for the larger message of acceptance, for the added quality, for the added media exposure that would surely come tumbling in and, not least, for the man himself.

Rogers wants to play in Los Angeles, understandably so. All the nervous parts would unfold closer to family and to familiar elements. And let’s not kid ourselves; performing as the first openly gay male in U.S. professional sports is high on the nervy scale.

So, clearly this is a special situation.

But how special? And how special does it need to be treated when it comes to roster policies? Because Rogers’ MLS rights belong elsewhere, and at some point, rules are rules.

The league needs to handle this with some care – and so far that hasn’t happened. MLS commissioner Don Garber doesn’t sound like he’s too worried about tampering here. Perhaps technically it doesn’t quality because Chicago signed off on Rogers training with the Galaxy.

But can’t MLS play this out a little and then recognize how it will be seen if not handled just so?

Yes, it would be good if Chicago arranged a deal with the Galaxy. But, again, at some point a league is a league and the Fire has every right to pursue maximum value in a swap. At some point, Rogers is an asset just like any other, one for which Chicago traded another asset previously.

(MORE: Rogers says MLS return likely in 2013)

Rogers removed any leverage that Chicago may have held with his revelation this morning that he isn’t very interested in playing for the Fire, that he would just “punt” instead of moving to Illinois. So, game over for the Fire.

MLS teams have been strong-armed into dealing with little leverage before. It happened with Freddy Adu and Dallas, which pretty much gave him away to D.C. United. It happened with promising U.S. under-20 attacker Luis Gil, whose rights were held by Kansas City but who wanted to be in Utah with Real Salt Lake.

Another “pennies on the dollar” arrangement that is, uh, “encouraged” by the league will be seen differently this time. Why? First because there will be far more eyes on this one.

But the bigger problem is that it’s the Galaxy. You know … David Beckham, Landon Donovan, AEG power suits, potential landing strip for Frank Lampard or Kaka or … well, you get the message.

Perhaps Chicago should take a little less than market value “for the good of the league.” But it’s naïve to think that all fans in all markets are going to see it that way.

After all, some might rightly say, there is another team in Southern California, right?

  1. jrocknstuff - May 5, 2013 at 7:15 PM

    So when all the LGBT community wants is to be treated the same as anybody else, you’re asking the Fire and/or the MLS to treat this situation differently than they would any other player?

    • kuhjon - May 5, 2013 at 8:03 PM

      I don’t think this has anything to do with LGBT. Let’s imagine Robbie never came out, but rather after his Leeds’ contract was terminated he wanted to come back to MLS. Most likely he would only want to be in So Cal and we’d be having the exact same conversation. Now, the stakes might be higher for MLS, Chicago and LA because of the LGBT angle, but either way, the talk would still be about how is this situation going to be handled so that they player is happy. And anyway, “differently than they would any other player” is kind of a misleading way to premise your question because there is already a precedent for this type of situation — which is, the team that holds a players rights gets (more or less) strong-armed into making a deal happen.

    • randomhookup - May 5, 2013 at 9:18 PM

      You mean like they are probably going to have to handle Herculez Gomez, who doesn’t want to play for the team that owns his rights?

    • twalkray - May 5, 2013 at 10:46 PM

      We are not talking about the entire LGBT community, we are talking about one person’s life and the fact is if people were just a wee bit more understanding the fact that he is gay would not be a talking point. Rogers, nor any gay player I would wager, is asking to be treated different but the way things are in our society merely having a sexual orientation that is out of the perceived norm draws attention. At this point it is almost, and i stress almost, irrelevant whether the attention is positive or negative the larger issue is that the attention is unavoidable. Robbie Rogers, because he came out as gay, can no longer just play soccer, he has to be an openly gay soccer player; so why is it unfair for him to want to only play in an area where he is comfortable when every other scenario would put him in a, off the pitch-wise(and indeed possibly and sadly on) potentially untenable situation?

      The bottom line is if everyone was in fact treated equally then this wouldn’t be a story or an issue, but unfortunately it is not the case.

      Something else to think about is that if Rogers has had to deal unfairly with the stigma of being gay in our society then why can’t he use it to his advantage?
      Straight people are allowed to be far less magnanimous in the face of such a situation after all…

    • orvillelloyddouglas - May 6, 2013 at 12:06 AM

      MLS needs to realize that Robbie Rogers is a star, he is the first American man to come out of the closet in professional soccer. Rogers is also only twenty five years old he’s in his prime. The MLS need to let Robbie go where he wants to which is the LA Galaxy. It only makes sense for Robbie to be with the LA Galaxy he can be in a safe and comfortable environment.

      People are downplaying the homophobia in men’s team sports, Robbie Rogers is VERY courageous and he deserves our respect. Let’s say Robbie goes to the Chicago Fire and he encounters homophobia? Let’s say if that happens what is the MLS going to do?

      The MLS has a serious problem with homophobia they have already suspended players who have made homophobic remarks against gays.

      The MLS is stupid if they dont allow Robbie got o where he wants to to. The MLS do need to think about publicity the INTERNATIONAL WORLD MEDIA will be paying attention when Robbie competes again in the MLS if he does come back. I’m not just talking about the USA media I am talking about the British media, Canadian media ect. This is a huge story, the Robbie Rogers story.

      Robbie Rogers is a very brave young man and the LGBT community can support him when he competes the MLS can obtain a new demographic market and audience. The MLS needs to think carefully about this let Robbie go where he wants to go.

      • archlobster - May 6, 2013 at 10:47 AM

        I don’t think treating someone differently because of their sexual orientation is a good message to send, no matter what it is you do. There are rules for a reason. Does evey athlete in special ciurcumstances then get to pick where to play or where not to play?

  2. Scott Fenwick - May 5, 2013 at 7:47 PM

    If the Galaxy really want Rogers, I don’t think Chicago has entirely lost its leverage.

  3. mrtuktoyaktuk - May 5, 2013 at 7:50 PM

    I understand that the single entity structure requires some unconventional approaches. But it’s time to take a good, critical look at the rights retentions rules. To me, maintaining the assignment of a player’s rights after they have ended a contractual relationship with the league is unfair. If a team really thinks someone will return, let them use a discovery slot.

  4. bellerophon30 - May 5, 2013 at 8:09 PM

    The MLS rules are anti-player, it’s that simple. Robbie Rogers is out of contract, he should be able to play anywhere in the world that will give him a work permit. Period.

    • east96st - May 5, 2013 at 8:39 PM

      Did someone force Rodgers to sign a MLS contract? Was a gun put to his head? Did he refuse to cash his checks because he was coerced to sign? No, no, & no. If you don’t like the terms of a contract, you have the option not to sign.

      Honestly, I think Robbie is, once again, over estimating his skills. He left Columbus, where he was a very much a hit or miss player, because he was certain he would be a success in Europe. 93 starts over five years with 13 goals and 16 assists for the Columbus. 6 of those goals came in 2008. Not awful, but certainly not outstanding, either. None of us who watched him play for the Crew shared his certainty about his move to Europe. Now, he doesn’t want to be in Chicago and wants to play for LA. Which player in LA’s starting lineup does Robbie honestly think he’s going to replace? He’ll end up riding the bench in LA. Robbie would be much better off playing in Chicago.

      • orvillelloyddouglas - May 6, 2013 at 12:10 AM

        east96st, I think you are underestimating the internal struggle Robbie Rogers went through prior to coming out. Robbie is a very good soccer player, you talk about the past when he was very tormented and closeted. Now Robbie is free, openly gay and proud. Now, Robbie can compete and reach his potential. You act like he wasn’t good the guy competed for the USA at the Olympics, he competed in the Netherlands, and in England. Not every USA player has his excellent resume and the guy is only 25 years old. Robbie Rogers still has time do more in his soccer career.

  5. schmutzdeck - May 5, 2013 at 9:21 PM

    east96st,

    If Rogers wanted to play for the Fire he would already be there.

    Robbie Rogers was always a very talented player who never seemed to be able to consistently perform to his potential.

    I always used to say if he could ever get his head on straight we might actually see something special. Now that he has come out maybe he is now free to be that special player.

    Based on what I’m reading, chances are Rogers would be happiest and play the best with the Galaxy. Most people seem to think retirement is preferable to willingly playing for Chivas.USA.

    Chicago needs to be compensated for RRt but then again if Rogers doesn’t want to play for Chicago then he can just stay retired and the Fire get bupkus. It seems to me this is all negotiable.
    If Rogers wants it that bad and LA want him that bad then something can be worked out. If not, too bad.

  6. seanb20124 - May 6, 2013 at 6:40 AM

    He should go play for Mexican team that is near the California border.

    • Stephen Mangat - May 6, 2013 at 8:32 AM

      Chivas USA then!

      JK but in all seriousness, why not Chivas?

  7. tylerbetts - May 6, 2013 at 8:23 AM

    Why is that MLS is always criticized for roster rules that restrict player movement, as if they are the only league that has such rules in place? Every other league in North America has those restrictions. the NFL has Restricted Free Agency, the Franchise Tag, seven rounds of drafting, and other restrictiosn that mean players can’t just choose who they want to play for, even after their contract is up. Similarly in the NBA (remember Josh Childress who played in Europe and still had his rights owned by Atlanta?), the NHL, and the worst offender of all MLB (where teams can manipulate your minor league assignment to change your years of service and keep you under team control as long as possilbe).

    The difference is:

    1) The MLS is still a VERY young league
    2) the MLS is the only one of those that has to actually compete with other leagues for talent.

    Still, the point remains the same. If Robbie Rogers were a professional basketball player who didn’t resign with his original team after his contract was expired, played in Europe for a bit, and wanted to come back to the NBA … guess what? His rights would still be owned by that first team as a restricted free agent. And, just like in this situation, the team he wants to play for/wants to sign him would need to work out a deal and send compensation to the team that holds his rights.

    • bellerophon30 - May 6, 2013 at 5:40 PM

      What you’re leaving out is that there is NO unrestricted free agency in MLS, no matter how long you play there.

  8. charliej11 - May 6, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    Send him to Chivas. He wants LA. We all want parity.

    Some guy trying to pull an “I only want to play for the top team” is just annoying. This isn’t England and he isn’t RVP. This isn’t the NBA and he isn’t LeBron.

    Send him to 2nd tier Europe. He is good enough to pull that crap off there.

  9. BDazzle - May 6, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    Reblogged this on Owen Goal and commented:
    Nothing really to add here about the ongoing Robbie Rogers saga, but this article is worth reading, as are the comment threads. A lot of things to take into consideration here… fairness of MLS rules, player rights, fair franchise compensation, above and beyond the fact that Mr. Rogers would be the first openly gay soccer player in the MLS.

  10. cherry314 - May 6, 2013 at 3:39 PM

    If I were”The Don” I would bring both teams general mangers to HQ and tell them:

    “This is a truly historic opportunity for MLS and our teams. Signing Robbie increases awareness of the league exponentially throughout the world which means more money for everyone in the league. Now for the love of the league, soccer in the US, and equal rights come to an agreement!”

    “And if I don’t see a deal on my desk by the end of the week both of you will be custom fitted with the very latest in cement shoes and dropped off in the East River. Who’s up for some excellent take-out Chinese?”

  11. talgrath - May 6, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    Robbie Rogers wants to play for LA, but does LA want Robbie to play for LA? If LA wants Rogers to play for them, they could easily find an accetable trade to Chicago, but they haven’t. If LA wants Rogers then they need to talk to Chicago, if you don’t have rules like these in place then players could just go to any other country for a year and then come back to play for the team they want to play for. If we really want to treat everyone equally, then that means we apply (fair) rules to everyone equally, whatever their race, religion or sexuality.

  12. tsingletonvt - May 7, 2013 at 8:37 PM

    How did McBride end up in Chicago instead of Toronto? MLS found a way then for a situation that agreed with a player’s wish and it benefitted Chicago. Now, MLS will find a way to make things work out for a player returning to the league that will not benefit Chicago. Seems fair to me. Just too bad it will benefit LA, but Chicago has to see the parallel here.

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