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Rogers coming back as first openly gay player in MLS

9:19 PM, May 24, 2013   |    comments
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Coming out and coming back - each was a difficult decision for Robbie Rogers, and one complicated the other.

He told the world in February that he is gay and at the same moment said he was leaving soccer. Now, Rogers is reversing field and has agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Galaxy, according to two people familiar with the negotiations. Both spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because the Galaxy has not announced the deal.

Rogers will be the first active openly gay player in Major League Soccer.

He also hopes to play for the U.S. national team in the 2014 World Cup - and to be the role model for gay teens that he wished he'd had.

Rogers' epiphany to return to the game came when he spoke to a group of about 500 kids at the Nike Be True LGBT Youth Forum in Portland last month.

"I seriously felt like a coward," he tells USA TODAY Sports in an exclusive interview about his return. "These kids are standing up for themselves and changing the world, and I'm 25, I have a platform and a voice to be a role model. How much of a coward was I to not step up to the plate?"

And so, newly turned 26, he will step onto the pitch again. He couldn't imagine such a thing when he told his secret in February, writing an open letter on his website and linking to it with this pithy tweet: "Just getting some sh*t off my chest."

That was Feb. 15. About six weeks later he told The Guardian why he'd chosen not to play soccer anymore:

"I wouldn't want to deal with the circus. Are people coming to see you because you're gay? Would I want to do interviews every day, where people are asking: 'So you're taking showers with guys - how's that?'

"If you're playing well it will be reported as: 'The gay footballer is playing well.' And if you have a bad game it'll be: 'Aw, that gay dude ... he's struggling because he's gay.' (Expletive) it. I don't want to mess with that."

Then, on April 25, Rogers appeared at the LGBT youth forum. Days later, NBA player Jason Collins came out. That made a much bigger splash in American media than had Rogers' announcement. For one thing, Collins was an active player - or, at least as a free agent, he hoped to play again. For another, as an NBA player he was from one of the four major North American team sports.

Rogers was out of his sport - and his sport was soccer. Still, he's had a more consequential career than Collins in several respects. The winger has played for the U.S. national team in 18 international matches. He won the 2005 NCAA championship with the University of Maryland. He led the Columbus Crew to the MLS Cup in 2008, when he was named to the MLS Best XI (for the league's top 11 players).

He'd just been released by the English soccer team Leeds United when he announced his sexual orientation and his retirement in a 408-word post on robbiehrogers.com, writing in part:

"Life is simple when your secret is gone. Gone is the pain that lurks in the stomach at work, the pain from avoiding questions. ... Secrets can cause so much internal damage. ... Try convincing yourself that your creator has the most wonderful purpose for you even though you were taught differently.

"I always thought I could hide this secret. Football was my escape, my purpose, my identity. ... Now is my time to step away. It's time to discover myself away from football. ... Honesty is a bitch but makes life so simple and clear. My secret is gone, I am a free man. I can move on and live my life as my creator intended."

His invocation of creator is an integral part of who he is.

"I'm a soccer player, I'm Christian, and I'm gay," Rogers says. "Those are things that people might say wouldn't go well together. But my family raised me to be an individual and to stand up for what I believe in.

"So the same principles that raised me to be an honest person are the same things that made me want to come out. I know I was created this way for a reason. ... Being Catholic - and people may disagree - but we are called to love everyone. Be honest. Be true in your relationship with God. I've always lived that way."

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