Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Unfortunately it's still a big story to be an athlete and gay

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

On the eve of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could decide the fate of marriage equality, several annoyances are ruining the majesty of the moment for me.

Why are we even debating this issue? How preposterous will we seem to our great-grandchildren when they study this era in school? How foolish do I feel every time I pose variations of the same question to gay people:

Why should you be granted the same right that has formed the bedrock of happiness in my life?

It happened again on Friday when I engaged in the same well-meaning but ultimately ridiculous exercise of interviewing a gay athlete about the civil rights our government is denying him for no good reason.

"I can't believe this is still such a big deal," Robbie Rogers said.

On Monday, Rogers will be honored at the Capitol for being a historical figure in American sports – a pioneer who doesn't seek to be called one because he shouldn't have to be one.

Only 26, Rogers recently became the first openly gay male to play on a major team sport in North America. He plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy in Major League Soccer and has played soccer abroad. Rogers has also represented his country on the U.S. men's national team and scored a goal for the United States against Mexico, its bitter rival in soccer.

He's a California kid who is loved by his family and is successful in other ventures of his life.

It would be nice if Rogers could just play soccer and be who he is without generating headlines. It would have been nice if, after coming out, he hadn't felt it necessary to briefly leave the game he loved for fear of not being accepted.

It would have been nice if Rogers wasn't the "first" American gay athlete to leave the closet for the playing fields of team sports in 2013. It would have been nice if Rogers hadn't spent 10 miserable years – from the age of 14 to 24 – knowing that he was gay but hiding it.

It would have been nice if he hadn't heard daily slurs in the locker room during his decade of hiding. There were the jokes where the word gay was injected into every sentence as a punch line. Coaches favored that three-lettered homophobic as they commanded Rogers and his teammates to avoid passing the ball like a "f--."

When Rogers played professional soccer in England, it would have been nice if the only other soccer player to come out of the closet in England hadn't eventually committed suicide.

It would be nice if some people didn't loathe Rogers for who he is and others didn't ignorantly ask why he came out at all.

Why, ignorant people ask, is this even an issue? Why is he defining himself by his sexuality?

Why? Because people do feel they have to hide when they experience daily put-downs and callous rejection – even from loved ones.

Why? Because we're all waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether Rogers can marry or not.

"I can't even get married in the state where my family and friends live," he said.

Why come out of the closet at all?

Here's a question: Why be in the closet at all?

Rogers decided to stop hiding because of kids he met who showed the courage of being themselves and refusing to hide.

"Kids are such amazing role models," he said. "I want to show them that I am a soccer player and I am gay. That the stereotypes aren't true. You can be whoever you want. I hope to inspire others.

"When I was hiding my orientation, I was miserable. I was depressed. I was avoiding people. I couldn't be open. I had to ask myself: What do I need to do to be happy?

"Now that I've crossed that barrier, everyone has treated me with so much respect. I'm not worried about how people are going to judge me anymore.

"I'm worried about working hard in training – about being myself and being positive.

"That will send a stronger message."

What does he want most of all?

"A time when being gay and playing sports and getting married aren't an issue anymore."


Call The Bee's Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096. Back columns, Follow him on Twitter @marcosbreton.