Robbie Rogers on His Coming Out Journey, Being a Gay Icon & “Men in Shorts”

Seattle Sounders v Los Angeles Galaxy - Western Conference Final - Leg 1
Robbie Rogers in action recently for the L.A. Galaxy soccer team. (Getty)

Thankfully, we live in a time where out professional athletes are becoming more and more visible in the world. When we someday look back at this current era, names like Jason Collins, Blake Skjellerup, Michael Sam and Robbie Rogers will be remembered for the trailblazers they are.

LA Galaxy soccer player Robbie Rogers was the very first openly gay male athlete to play in Major League Soccer– or indeed any American major league sport. In his new autobiography, Coming Out To Play, Rogers, along with Eric Marcus, writes of his experiences growing into one of the top players in soccer but also how hiding himself in the closet was as prominent a part of his life as being on the field. Released just this week, Rogers’ book is upfront and honest about his sleeping with women, his depression and his relationship with out television writer/producer, Greg Berlanti.

We talked to Rogers last week and asked about reliving much of his journey for the book and, surprisingly, how Dawson’s Creek (which was Berlanti’s first job writing for television) played an important part in his life.

The Backlot: I’m curious how hearing fans’ reactions to the book is making you feel– because having read the book you seem very humble and don’t seem necessarily comfortable with the attention.

Robbie Rogers: I always feel a little awkward with attention and like I said in the book I came out because of my unhappiness. So maybe it was a selfish thing and it ended up helping people. I don’t know. I think I’ll always just be a little bit shy of the attention, but I am excited to hear from people like you or from kids that have read the book already and they can go through the emotions of being happy or sad and really feeling what I felt during those times. I am a little nervous for the book to come out but I’m very, very excited for people to read it and to hear their response– because that’s the point.

Robbie Rogers, GLSENInspiring and setting an example for youth is a big part of Rogers’ life.
He regularly appears at GLSEN events. (Getty)

How was it for you to kind of go back and relive some of that from even five years ago?

RR: The stuff from when I was younger, that was the most difficult part to relive and talk about and then to write it down. That was difficult. I had to kind of work through that but to write it down and work with Eric on that stuff, I had to deal with those emotions. It was very difficult, but good for me, obviously. Good to bring up those things to talk about and talk to my family about them. I think when they got to read the book– they obviously have all read it a few months ago– to be able to talk about that stuff again was very helpful.

You open the book with the talk about the concussion that you suffered during play. Do you think if that hadn’t happened that your course would have been different?

RR: No. I think moving to England pushed me along the course of coming out. I don’t think that the concussion had anything to do with it or maybe it was the amount of injuries I had that gave me time to realize and time to think for myself that I need to do this. I was depressed. Soccer isn’t everything. I mean, you have an injury and you can’t play, so I needed to figure out my happiness first.

If I took anything from your story it was definitely shows that everyone comes out at their own pace. You were very aware of your feelings for a long time, but you were really shoving them down as long as possible.

RR: Yeah, I was. I was.

Robbie Rogers, Come Out To Play

I have twins in my family so I know there’s almost a sixth sense. Is that kind of what you were feeling when you asked your mom about being a twin at a young age?

RR: Yeah. She and my sister remember it better than I do but I just remember being sad and just, I don’t know why that thought came to me. I think a lot of people in my family have great intuition and it was a little strange but I just felt sad and a little bit different, maybe I was a little bit of the gayness coming through as well but I don’t know, it’s interesting. If you talk to my mom right now, she’s great at telling the story. I don’t know. It was just really interesting, so I wanted to put it in the book and thought it was a great story to tell.

Robbie Rogers Celebrates The Release Of His Memoir "Coming Out To Play"
Robbie with his mother, Theresa Rogers (Getty)

You talk about being raised Catholic and how that isn’t a part of your life anymore. Is religion or faith a part of your life?

RR: Yeah, I’m a religious person. I believe that my relationship with God is my relationship with God. I think the Catholic Church is coming around but obviously very, very slowly and I think it’s very difficult to be a gay man and be a Catholic. But I do think that it is changing.

When you hear your name grouped in with others like Jason Collins and other gay icons how do you feel about that term alongside your name?

RR: This year I haven’t thought about that because I guess I just knew myself as an athlete, but last year I did and actually last year was difficult for me because I felt like there was myself and Jason Collins last year and it was really difficult for me to have to answer all the questions and to have everything sorted out. I knew I was just figuring out so many things for myself last year, so I wasn’t ready for that. But that’s a good question. I guess the simple answer is no, I don’t think of myself as a gay icon. I just think of myself as Robbie, I’m a soccer player that’s gay.

I know when I was growing up, it was really tough to find gay role models anywhere in the world and now there are so many.

RR: Me, too. It’s so sad. I don’t have those role models in sports that I could learn from their lives. So you know, that’s why I think it was so difficult for me. But I’m happy and I know Jason is happy to be that person for people. Michael Sam, as well. So I know it’s tough for us, but we all are happy that a different generation can see what we’re doing and hopefully learn from our mistakes.

It’s easy to think once you come out and the news dies down that it’s all easy. But what are the challenges moving forward for you?

RR: The challenges of being a professional athlete every day, competing and winning and doing well and the challenge of what am I going to do after soccer. But I mean just normal stuff, you know, just normal stuff and trying to live a life that I understand and knowing people are probably is watching a little bit more closely. I know young kids are watching what I’m doing so I don’t want to make a mistake that would be a bad message to send. I want to be a positive role model because I know that those kids are watching. I’m not perfect and I’m sure I will make those mistakes, but just hopefully in the next five or ten years those kids can kind of see what I’ve done and have it be more of a positive message than a negative one.

rogers-berlantiGreg Berlanti and Robbie Rogers (Getty)

I know there’s a lot of public eyes on both of you and Greg for different reasons, but is that something you’ve gotten used to yet?

RR: Yeah. I don’t think about it. I don’t think about it just because I’m just not used to it.

I love that you mentioned Dawson’s Creek in your book which is ironic since Greg was writing a lot of those episodes for Jack McPhee coming out of the closet. Safe to say you two have talked about that?

RR: Yeah. That was the first time I saw something gay happen on TV. So I told Greg that, but he had to fight for that. It’s interesting how things have changed now. There’s all these characters, characters are now portrayed different ways, they’re not just a stereotypical one, and people like Greg and yourself and other people that are in media are ready to talk about it and writing scripts and know that it’s important. So I’m very, very grateful for it. It helped me when I was younger.

What can you say about the sitcom, the Men in Shorts sitcom?

RR: Craig [Zadan] and Neil [Meron] came to me and talked to me about the gay athlete stuff and I started talking about my story and the comedy of the locker room and taking a shower the first time after I came out and just making jokes with people so that people would feel comfortable while not being too sensitive to things. We’re trying to teach people through laughter. Obviously it takes place in the sports world but there’s a gay man that comes out that doesn’t really know how to be gay and he’s just a total fish out of water but he’s expected to have the answers for little Tommy in Thailand who wants to be a soccer player and he’s like well, I just came out, what am I supposed to tell him? It’s funny. The writers are amazing. Claudia [Lonow] is great and Jordan [Nardino] is amazing as well, and we’re really excited about it. It’s very different. I think everyone is really excited about it. It’s a world that we’ve never seen. So I hope everything goes well.

The player that comes out, will his family be a part of the show? I know you’re close with your family.

RR: Yeah. A huge part of the show. They’re a part of the show and the locker room and the team is like their own family, we’re like brothers and we’re obviously so close. So it’s like a family within a family and the how my family intertwines with that and we exaggerate and have different relationships intertwine. So it’s emotional but it’s funny.

Coming Out To Play is available everywhere books are sold. For more on Robbie Rogers, visit his website.