LONDON — Former Leeds winger Robbie Rodgers admits the macho culture of football makes it impossible for gay players to stay in the sport once they have revealed their homosexuality.
Rodgers recently became only the second British-based footballer after Justin Fashanu to admit he was gay, but the United States international waited until quitting Championship club Leeds before going public with the news.
The 25-year-old’s contract with Leeds was cancelled by mutual consent in January and a few weeks later Rodgers posted a message on his personal website announcing he was gay and had stepped away from football while he considered if he still had a future in the game.
In his first interview since his revelation, Rodgers claims the sometimes vicious banter between team-mates would make a football changing room a hard place for a gay player to be.
“In football it’s obviously impossible to come out because no one has done it. No one. It’s crazy and sad. I thought: ‘Why don’t I step away and deal with this and my family and be happy?'” Rodgers told The Guardian on Friday.
“Football is an amazing sport. But it is also a brutal sport that picks people up and slams them on their heads.
Adding the gay aspect doesn’t make a great cocktail.
“Imagine going to training every day and being in that spotlight? It’s been a bit of a circus anyway, but that would have been crazy. And you wouldn’t have much control because clubs are pushing you in different directions.
“I was just fearful. I was very fearful how my team-mates were going to react. Was it going to change them? Even though I’d still be the same person would it change the way they acted towards me, when we were in the dressing room or the bus?”
Rogers, who also played for Dutch side Heerenveen, American outfit Columbus Crew and had a loan spell at League One club Stevenage, had heard numerous homophobic jokes and jibes from team-mates unaware he was gay.
That knowledge made it difficult for the Californian to let the world know his sexuality while he was still playing.
“There were different emotions (when he heard homophobic comments). Sometimes I would feel bad for them.
Sometimes I would laugh because it was kinda funny. And, sometimes, it got malicious,” Rodgers said.
“That was when I would get this awful feeling in my stomach. I would turn my head and try to chat about other things.
They often don’t mean what they say.
“It’s that pack mentality, they’re trying to get a laugh, they’re trying to be the top guy. But it’s brutal. It’s like high school again, on steroids.
“I don’t think I would have been able to go training the next day. That would be so scary. The guys might have said, ‘That’s great, Robbie.’ Maybe.
“But because no one’s done it and because of the things I’ve heard in the dressing room I just thought: ‘I need to get away from this, make my announcement, find peace, go from there.’ So I can never imagine announcing that at Leeds.”
Although Rodgers is happy with the reaction to his sexuality, he is unsure if he wants to resume his playing career.
“Football will always be part of me. I don’t know if I’m done playing yet,” he said.
“I miss it and think about it a lot. But I’m so happy now I don’t want to mess with that.”