Another gay footballer has come out. Robbie H Rogers has earned our respect for taking this brave step and making public what most of us consider private: his sexual identity. His sexuality is of interest only because he is a football player and a celebrity. Who else would care if we put it on our blog? In the case of Robbie Rogers, the whole world cares. Even Sepp Blatter twittered about it; former teammates commented that the media coverage was enormous. Where were they when they were needed?
Apparently the gay football community still has not got what it ultimately wanted; Robbie Rogers, a good-looking footballer, an Olympic Games participant, a player in the US National Team, and – as a team member of Leeds United – a player of the Championship League in England, has come out. There is no doubt that Robbie, a flagship-sportsman, is someone you like to be associated with. He is not the Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo superstar type of guy, an outstanding champion and national team captain who can be deified by boys and girls – the kind of guy the gay community would worship as their all-time idol if he came out. Why are we still waiting for him? And though Robbie, with his record, is quite close to the prototype of such a hero, there is still the most unhelpful blemish: with his coming out he quit playing professional football. We still will not know what it is like when an „out“ player enters the pitch in a packed Premier League stadium, what the opposing fans are going to yell at him in an away game, what his teammates will say when he walks into the shower room, and what the newspapers will write when his tackling is not manly enough. Whether our society is really ready to welcome and accept an „out“ gay footballer in the world of football, we will only know once these questions are answered. The fears that gay professional footballers have to experience are so great and the answers to these questions are obviously still so elusive that coming out as an active pro is not an option. This is the sad message: the societal deficit is the actual scandal behind Robbie Roger’s confession and a societal challenge we all have to face.
Until we are confronted with such a situation in the routine of League plays, all of the well-intended, and sometimes trustworthy, promises of all these prominent club managers, league as well as association officials, and Blatters around the globe offer nothing more than lip service. I truly believe that in the leading positions of the superior clubs and associations there are some very sophisticated, liberal, and open-minded persons, who really mean what they say if they address any conceivable support for a football pro who decided to come out publicly. I also believe that these people are open to gays and lesbians in their private life and have their promoted views on the everyday relevance of a person’s sexual identity. I feel that if the situation demanded, they really would act in a protecting and supporting way, taking the position that being gay or lesbian is naturally recognized and accepted in our modern society. My only fear is that they would still be in a minority in football.
Through my intense and long years in the organized structures of football, I could reach other conclusions. Though homosexuality, especially in football, is a problem of generations that the views of our youngsters have drastically shifted towards an understanding that being gay or lesbian is purely natural, the views of a remarkable number of persons in clubs and associations still differ from this ideal. They are usually older and have possibly never knowingly seen or spoken to a gay boy or a lesbian girl. From their intuition they know perfectly well that „diversity and tolerance“ must be promoted – and, of course, they claim publicly that homosexuality in football is not a problem, that it must be normal, and that its non-acceptance would be discriminatory. The very moment the word „gay“ leaves their lips, they have unnatural sodomy, paedophilia, and sexual availability on their minds. For them, homosexual love is inconceivable as anything other than sin. They feign acceptance because they have to, because it is modern and follows the zeitgeist when they are actually not free in thinking and acting. They are full of prejudices and are literally afraid of the great unknown. Homosexuality is suspicious. If these people know that someone is gay, a lifelong stigma is then attached to this person. If the majority of the people in football still thought and behaved like this, any pro who came out would go through hell.
However, football has another very positive side. There are educated and liberal decision-makers who steer this discussion in the right direction. Some few people completely free of homophobia and with trustworthy activities to fight it in the area of amateur football can also be found in my home association. The efforts and activities of the former president of the DFB (German Football Association), Dr. Theo Zwanziger, were always true and authentic. They led to the long overdue beginning of a discussion in German football on this matter. Today, the subsequent continuing work of the DFB on the topic, by a group consisting of distinguished experts under the lead of Prof. Gunter A. Pilz, ensures an ongoing discussion, necessary enlightenment, change in perception, and preparation for “the big case.“ Here, we are headed in the right direction. The challenge will be to break these insights down from peak level of organized football to the basis of the sport in the subdivisions and the local clubs – even in the sticks.
We know from the public reactions to Robbie Rogers coming out, that he will be safe. He does not have to fear any prospective disadvantages. I do not know where he is going to live out the remainder of his life; He could be planning on staying in London, as his blog says, or in the US, where he tweeted from last. I do not know what his professional plans are for his future. One thing I can say for sure is that his public coming out will not have an impact on his professional life – as long as he is not a professional football player. Either in the US or in Europe, as a gay man you can have a career. In the everyday labour life, outside of sports, one’s sexual identity does not seem to play a decisive role anymore. There are, however, still nuanced differences. Although Germany has a gay foreign minister and a gay mayor in our federal capital, during the time I lived in the US, I always had the impression that being gay was more naturally and professionally accepted in the American society than in my home country. Americans seem to be more educated and developed regarding this topic. It is not likely that this impression can have come from the proverbial small-talk abilities of American people, but when one tells of their homosexuality there, the pressure to justify oneself is not felt in the slightest. The further questions of the conversation partners felt a little more normal, and they seemed more honestly interested than they do back here. It really could be that the call for political correctness – sometimes ridiculed by Europeans – combined with a deep respect for individuality, personal space, and privacy – surely founded in the American history – tip the balance here.
For me, it is no surprise that Robbie Rogers is American. And, as this case perfectly shows, we all still have a lot of work to do over here, especially in football.