Less than four years ago, Robbie Rogers scored his first goal for the United States Men's National Team during the 2009 Gold Cup. At 22 years old, the Columbus Crew midfielder's future was bright. A year later, he was one of the last players cut from the 2010 World Cup roster. Despite the setback, he had all the physical tools to become a mainstay in the national team picture. A subsequent move to English side Leeds United early in 2012 seemed to be the next step in a long, fulfilling career.
Now fast forward to Friday, when Rogers announced he was stepping away from soccer to focus on his personal life.
He had suffered some injuries during his time overseas. We don't know the extent of those or how much of an effect that played in his decision to step away.
But let's say at some point Rogers is 100% healthy again. Let's say he has an opportunity to reflect on being openly gay, not just as an athlete, but as a human being who has been hiding something incredibly important to him for the first 25 years of his life.
You don't just naturally become a pro athlete. Even with all the raw talent in the world, it takes a ridiculous amount of passion to push yourself to the point where you can compete at an elite level like Rogers did.
So if at some point Rogers wants to return to the game, he'll have an opportunity to do so in a city that has championed tolerance.
My friend Matt Lindner over at RedEye wrote last year about how Chicago would be the perfect city for an athlete to come out of the closet. And I think that still holds true today. The last Chicago team to win a major trophy ended up celebrating that achievement in the city's Gay Pride parade.
If Rogers decided to come to Chicago and wear the cf97 badge, he would instantly become one of the city's most beloved heroes. He would become one of MLS' biggest stars. He would have the opportunity to finally break down the barriers that still inexplicably separate sports and sexual orientation.
Now there are a number of reasons that Rogers may not want this. First, as Rogers tweeted recently, he doesn't seem to be a big fan of the league. And as someone raised on the west coast and who used to play for the Chicago Fire's rival, perhaps he doesn't have interest in playing here and would rather play for a different MLS club. The first step would be the club actually being able to get in contact with him.
It's also possible that Rogers believes he still has a future in Europe. Perhaps at some point he will find a club in London or somewhere else on the continent.
But then there's likely the biggest obstacle: being the first openly gay athlete to play professionally is a daunting task. There really isn't any precedent for it. And regardless of his performance, he would inevitably be judged based on his personal life as opposed to his physical abilities. A number of players have come out after their playing career is over, but this is completely different.
But perhaps that passion that drove him to play soccer in the first place will give him the courage to return one day. And we can only hope that he'll choose Chicago to call home. Because I personally can't wait for the day that this isn't even a big deal. And Robbie Rogers has the opportunity to make that happen.