Response to Robbie Rogers' coming out is positive

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Sports,Craig Stouffer

Revelation perhaps sets the stage for active player to do so

As alone as Robbie Rogers might have felt before revealing his true sexual orientation, he was surrounded by support immediately after making it public.

The response was overwhelmingly positive from the soccer community at home and abroad after the U.S. men's national team midfielder and former Maryland Terrapins player announced he was gay and stepping away from the game in a blog post titled "The Next Chapter."

More than just a reaction to the closest any active player has been to coming out in a male team sport, it sets the stage for when it does happen.

"I do think that's the next step," said Patrick Burke, founder of the You Can Play Project, which is dedicated to inclusion in sports regardless of sexual orientation. "I think we're very close. I've said that within the National Hockey League, it'll happen within the next year or so, and I think the other sports won't be too far behind. I think we're very close to having openly gay members of the male team sports."

Rogers, 25, parted ways with English club Leeds United last month. He has been in England for the last year after five seasons with the Columbus Crew. He has played 18 times for the United States and won an NCAA championship in his only season with Maryland in 2005.

"Try explaining to your loved ones after 25 years you are gay," Rogers wrote. "... Now is my time to step away."

The former Terps who took to Twitter to back Rogers included Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza and Chris Seitz, part of a much larger swath of soccer players.

"I am incredibly proud of Robbie," Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said in a statement. "He is a special human being. ... I love Robbie for Robbie!"

"Soccer and hockey are setting the pace on this issue in terms of being the most inclusive, most supportive from the athletes and the league," said Burke, who is a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers. He is also the son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and brother of the late Brendan Burke, who came out in 2009 before being killed in a car crash in 2010.

D.C. United was the first Major League Soccer team to put out a "You Can Play" video last season.

While the male team sports community waits for an active player to come out, it already has happened for the women. U.S. national team midfielder Megan Rapinoe announced she was gay before last summer's Olympics, and her teammate Lori Lindsey, who will play for the Washington Spirit this spring, gave an interview last fall to clarify what she says has never been a secret.

It is unclear whether Rogers, who battled injuries last year, might return to the game. Lindsey doesn't want his sexuality to be the reason he stays away.

"I would like to see -- if Robbie does choose to come back and he's able to -- how he performs because I think with Megan it was huge," Lindsey said. "She felt free. I think she felt very confident that she came out and people knew who she was, that she expressed that on the field, and she had a wonderful Olympics."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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