Book Review: “Coming Out to Play” by Robbie Rogers

By | March 1, 2016

Image from Creative Commons

Until 2014, the story of Robbie Rogers—an American professional soccer player who plays for the LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer—had been told by the media. In his 2014 autobiography Coming Out to Play, Rogers fills the gaps left in the media’s shorthand narrative of his life as the first openly gay athlete to play in one of the top five North American sports leagues. His refreshing candor about the realities of being a gay male in the world of sports, which is characterized by hypermasculinity and heteronormativity, captured and kept my attention and reveals the merits of the oft-cited mantra, “Be yourself.” Rogers lets his personality shine through in his book and unabashedly claims who he is.

But for 22 years, he didn’t, and what makes his autobiography so special is his introspective and self-aware reflection on the painful trajectory to self-acceptance. Soccer is the only part of his identity about which he felt no uneasiness. He was a talented and sought-after player through every step of his career, and he loved it. In a way, he needed it. The praise he was awarded all his life and the value others attached to his identity as Robbie the soccer player created a shield that protected him from confronting his insecurities about his identity as a gay man.

Instead of owning the person he was, he attempted to change it. He had sexual and romantic relationships with strikingly beautiful and good-natured women, holding out hope that the “right woman” could make him straight. His last attempt at a relationship with a woman was with a model named Katie who he loved as a person and deeply admired. “She deserved to be in a relationship with someone who could love her in the ways she deserved. As a gay man—which my failed relationship with Katie had finally forced me to accept I was—the best I could do was pretend….I knew that if Katie couldn’t change me, then no woman could,” he writes (Rogers 107).

Rogers lived with his secret for a long time—from his childhood in a Catholic family to locker rooms where homophobic slurs were engrained into the culture—and eventually, he reached a point when he could no longer subsume his entire personhood under his identity as Robbie the soccer player and continue to hide a fundamental part of who he is. He finally cracked, starting with coming out to his family. Having grown up in a Catholic household in which he witnessed both subtle and non-subtle forms of homophobia, Rogers was scared. But his family accepted him and made him feel loved and valued. In addition to his family, Rogers garnered support from seemingly everyone else. The honesty of Rogers’ account extended to his description of his coming out experience, which came across as ideal. He writes, “Virtually all of the notes I received were supportive” (Rogers 184).

My lone criticism of Rogers’ autobiography is that he could have gone further in acknowledging his privileged position in the LGBTQ community as a white, upper-class, and high-status male with a vast support network. To be sure, his journey as a closeted professional athlete was a challenging one and his story needed to be heard. But sharing his secret set Rogers free, and the opposite is the case for millions of LGBTQ individuals who not only suffer from receiving inadequate support, but also are subject to discrimination and abuse and afflicted by mental illnesses after their sexuality is revealed. Rogers had the fortune of never experiencing these harrowing realities after coming out, and his book would have benefited from better recognition of the relative favorability of his circumstances. Yes, Coming Out to Play is Robbie Rogers’ story, but a little more acknowledgment of his various forms of privilege would have gone a long way in making his account more empathetic to the most marginalized and vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community.

Where Rogers falls short in empathy he makes up for in likability. I found myself rooting for Robbie from the very beginning, and I hope he continues to own his identity as boldly as he did in this book. After all, self-acceptance is a journey, not a destination.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Coming Out to Play” by Robbie Rogers

  1. Rachael Humke

    I understand why you feel Rogers’ book should have included more regarding the plight of some LGBTQ individuals. The fact that some people face hardships by being themselves is horrible and deserves proper attention. My problem with including these issues in Roger’s book are two-fold.
    1) It is important to note that this book was meant to be about Robbie Rogers. It is a biography about his life and his experiences. He did not experience a large amount of discrimination upon coming out. By adding details regarding some of the hardships faced by the LGBTQ community he would not be portraying his experiences of coming out accurately. What he does portray is the fear that coincides with such a decision. That fear in and of itself demonstrates what Rogers’ knowledge of what has happened to certain individuals within the community upon coming out. The direct discussion of other experiences in the LGBTQ community are not as necessary because the issues are still present, albeit indirectly.
    2) The hardships faced by the LGBTQ community deserve more than a side note in a biography. These are real issues that need to be talked about and not buried under other material. While the support of a public figure could add to their stature; a direct discussion in a public setting would be more beneficial than the inclusion of a few side comments.

    1. Lopa Rahman Post author

      Hi Rachael,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my review. I can definitely see where you’re coming from with your critique of my penultimate paragraph and think the concerns you raise are important to consider when deciding whether or not to engage with social issues in a deeply personal text. I think it certainly would have been possible for Rogers to show support for marginalized members of the LGBTQ community in a productive and beneficial way in his book–and stand by my belief that his autobiography would have benefited from that–but I respect his decision not to do so and understand your reasoning for being against the idea.



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