Quietly, with little attention or fanfare, a bit of sports history was made late Sunday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. In the 77th minute of the Los Angeles Galaxy’s 4-0 win over the Seattle Sounders, Robbie Rogers entered the game for Juninho. It would be just one of hundreds of instantly forgotten moves during the course of the sports day.
But when Rogers stepped onto the field, crossed himself and ran to his position in the midfield, a barrier in North American sports had been crossed as he became the first openly gay male athlete to appear in a team sport.
For a moment as historic as this, you’d have expected a sea of flashbulbs and proverbial ‘spinning newspaper’ level coverage. Instead the moment was just that — a moment. Rogers entered the game. The fans at the Home Depot Center cheered — some standing up from their seats. ESPN2 announcers Adrian Healey and Taylor Twellman stepped back from their microphones, briefly, to let the moment speak for itself.
Viewers at home — those still awake on the East Coast since it happened well after midnight — unless they were watching the match itself, probably didn’t even know it happened since a regular season MLS game in May rates very far below the NBA playoffs, the Indy 500, the NHL playoffs, NASCAR, baseball, the Mexican League soccer final and nearly every other sporting event on the calendar. Even into Memorial Day Monday, the news of Rogers’ history-making appearance rated low on the sports totem pole, despite gay athletes in American sports being such a big talking point over the course of 2013.
Lots of people probably went back to work and their regular routine on Tuesday with no idea Rogers even played Sunday night, let alone who he is in the first place.
As I speculated on Saturday when the news of Rogers’ return from his self-imposed retirement after coming out in February, MLS is probably the right spot for a gay male athlete to make history. The low-profile nature of the league will allow Rogers to quickly become just another player, judged for his ability to help the Galaxy win or lose games, rather than his sexuality.
Rogers, even in the short term, isn’t going to be overwhelmed by the media pecking at his every move. It’s unlikely the Galaxy’s next match — a U.S. Open Cup game against the Carolina Railhawks in Cary, N.C. on Wednesday night — is going to be descended upon by Anderson Cooper, Piers Morgan, Erin Burnett, Jeremy Schaap, et al. or even be mentioned in passing on “SportsCenter.” It’ll simply be another game in a sea of thousands.
There’s not that much more for the media to say, either. Rogers has already done the hard part — coming out (and coming out of retirement) to make American sports history and serve as a role model. If there’s a big story here left with Rogers, it’s how welcoming everyone involved with MLS and American soccer has been since his announcement. It’s been met with almost zero hostility.
Compare this to the media firestorm that will likely occur when Jason Collins plays his first NBA exhibition game, should a team sign him to a contract. It figures to lead not only “SportsCenter,” by the national nightly news. All the cable news talk shows will descend on the story. There’s going to be a lot of screaming, a lot of (ahem) debate, too. There’ll probably be protesters, too. In short, it will be a huge deal — double, triple, quadruple that if and when we have an openly gay NFL player take the field.
Even if it had a little bit of a ‘if a tree falls in the woods’ feel to it, the Rogers situation was handled with aplomb by all parties involved.
An openly gay male athlete played a team sport on Sunday in America, whether or not you were paying attention.
History itself can be made quietly, but its impact only grows louder with time.
[Photo via Getty]