American soccer player Robbie Rogers, who had been playing club soccer in England for the team Leeds United, announced earlier this year that he was gay and that was retiring from the sport. Surely there were some ugly responses to his announcement on social media and elsewhere, but there was also an extraordinary amount of positive feedback and support from both fans and fellow players. It was a testament not only to where we stand as a society, but also to Robbie’s extraordinary character.
As a fan of Robbie’s since his first or second season with the Columbus Crew, I was among the many hoping for him to return to the sport he loves. And on Monday, Robbie made his return, coming on as a substitute for the LA Galaxy, becoming the first openly gay man to play in a major American professional sports league. (Yes, MLS is a major sports league. After all, it’s named Major League Soccer. That must count for something, right?)
It was a remarkable moment. And one thing that caught my eye was that his first action upon entering the game was to make the sign of the cross, an expression of his Catholic faith. Robbie is a devout Catholic. And part of his struggle has been trying to reconcile being gay and being Catholic. He was afraid of losing his career, his highest hopes and aspirations, and most importantly the support of his loved ones. Yet keeping his sexual orientation a secret was eating away at him. He came to believe that he could only fulfill God’s will by being authentic and honest, by revealing this part of himself.
Reactions to this should transcend the divisions that exist within our society and the Church over same-sex marriage and other controversial matters. The Catechism states clearly that every sign of unjust discrimination toward those with “homosexual tendencies” should be avoided. When such barriers are broken, it helps us to live in a more just society, which is something to celebrate. So for all those who accept Church teaching on building a society without unjust discrimination, this is a moment to celebrate. And we should also celebrate Robbie’s courage and his commitment to his faith.