Revisiting Robbie Rogers interview ahead of Rainbow Laces weekend of action

In 2013, LA Galaxy's Robbie Rogers spoke to Geoff Shreeves about becoming the first openly gay man to compete in Major League Soccer

With the Rainbow Laces campaign building towards a weekend of action across the UK, we revisit Geoff Shreeves' interview with Robbie Rogers in 2013.

"I'm a soccer player, I'm Christian, and I'm gay."

These words stood out in Rogers' online blog three years ago when he became the first professional footballer to come out as openly gay since Justin Fashanu in 1990.

Having initially announced his retirement from the game at the time he revealed his sexuality in February 2013, Rogers returned to America to sign for LA Galaxy after a three-month absence.

Rogers went on to win the MLS Cup with the Galaxy in December 2014, and now aged 29, he remains the only out gay player in professional soccer worldwide.

Here, we take a look at Shreeves' sit-down chat with Rogers from 2013, as the player recalls the fear of coming out, and what inspired him to return to the game he loved...

Robbie Rogers of LA Galaxy prior to his first appearance after coming out as openly gay
Image: Rogers prior to his first appearance for LA Galaxy after coming out

So what made Rogers decide to come out?

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"It was for my sanity, for myself," he said. "Nothing else was really going through my mind.

"I wasn't really thinking about the possible reaction, I was thinking I need to do this for myself, to be honest and open with people so I can just carry on with my life, or my new life you could say.

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"Of course there was a fear, but I knew it was something I had to do so I could live a real life."

Rogers came out just weeks after he was released by Leeds United. His time in Europe was brief, but London was his destination when the blog went live. The following day, he ran a half-marathon in Brighton, and nothing in his life appeared to have changed.

However, the build-up to his announcement was filled with a fear of not being accepted, and this led to Rogers confirming his retirement in the same message.

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"I was 100 per cent convinced I was done," he added. "Which is so stupid looking back. I don't know why I thought that or why I was so afraid to be a gay athlete. But it was a learning process for me and for everyone.

"I had no one to look up to that had done it before, and then you ask yourself why not. Hearing things in locker rooms growing up, it sticks with you. But after this whole process, I've had so much support that I think it's about setting an example for people.

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"Everyone has their [coming out] story. In sport, it's just so difficult because you do something that you're so passionate about, and the thought that you could lose that because of your sexual orientation brings a lot of fear."

The American took some time out before returning to the game, and initially avoided interviews on the issue. But in both instances, the scenario soon changed.

Robbie Rogers was all smile when he came on to a standing ovation in his debut for LA Galaxy
Image: Robbie Rogers was all smiles when he came on to a standing ovation on his debut for LA Galaxy in March 2013

Rogers' appearance as a substitute against Seattle Sounders in March 2013 made him the first openly gay male to play in a prominent North American pro league - while he eventually warmed to his prominent role within the LGBT community.

"After I posted that letter, it took me a while to do interviews," Rogers admitted. "I didn't want to be shoved in that spotlight and constantly talk about myself.

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"But after I realised the impact it made on people and that it's something I need to do, that it's in my DNA, I wanted to share my story to help push the sport forward.

"I just started missing football more and more, and then I started watching clips of me training that had been sent to CNN, I think. I was missing it and then I saw this, and thought I'm going to do this, I'm going to go back and do something people haven't done before.

"At first, I was just going to go back and train, but when I realised that it wasn't a big deal and that I loved it, I was like 'this is fine, it's not a big deal'."

Robbie Rogers (2nd R) with teammates Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, Nigel de Jong and Gyasi Zerdes in March 2016
Image: Robbie Rogers (2nd R) with Galaxy team-mates Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, Nigel de Jong and Gyasi Zerdes in March 2016

"I was scared to go back. You build up in your head that you're going to a place where you're viewed completely different. After the first day, even after the first few hours, I was like 'oh, this is totally normal'."

"I don't know what I was so worried about."

The colours of the rainbow will be seen this weekend at football stadiums up and down the United Kingdom.

The Rainbow Laces campaign carries a simple message: 'Make sport everyone's game'. The aim is to create awareness of homophobia and a pathway to stop abuse and change attitudes.

So what can wearing a pair of Rainbow Laces achieve? Well, they're a visible show of support for LGBT inclusion in sport (they cost a donation of £3, and the money goes towards projects such as anti-bullying training, and campaigns and initiatives designed to tackle discrimination worldwide).

Lacing up in this vibrant way is a demonstration of shared values - that everyone is respected by you or your team, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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