U.S. Soccer player Robbie Rogers stunned his fans and followers today by coming out as gay and announcing he was walking away from soccer at just 25 years old.
Rogers, who had played 18 games with the U.S. National team, and recently transferred to England's Leeds United, made the announcement in an emotional blog post.
"Try explaining to your loved ones after 25 years you are gay," wrote Rogers. "Try convincing yourself that your creator has the most wonderful purpose for you even though you were taught differently."
Rogers included a link to the blog post on his twitter page with the message, "Just getting some sh*t off my chest." Before that, he had tweeted, "Beautiful out right now. Too bad I'm feeling blue ;("
Rogers did not indicate in the post whether coming out as gay would make it difficult to continue playing professional soccer. There are no current Major League Soccer players who are openly gay.
"It shows how difficult it is in sports to be openly gay," Jim Buzinski, co-founder of Outsports.com, told ABC News. "It really takes a toll on you, you have to live with this lie 24/7, it takes a lot of emotional energy to stay closeted and keep your story straight. It sounded like it was a real strain on him."
Ultimately, Rogers said that he had to choose between being himself and being a soccer player.
"I always thought I could hide this secret," he wrote. "Football was my escape, my purpose, my identity. Football hid my secret, gave me more joy than I could have ever imagined," said Rogers. "Now is my time to step away. It's time to discover myself away from football".
According to Buzinski, successful gay athletes have been able to compartmentalize their emotions.
"They can put their sexuality on the shelf and deal with it later so their sole focus is on their sport. Other people can't do that and it sounds like Robbie is one of those," said Buzinski. "It was obviously tormenting him," he said.
Rogers has experienced an outpouring of support on social media, with at least two members of the U.S. National Team offering their support.
"Much love and respect to my boy @robbierogers! Proud to be your friend bro," tweeted teammate Stuart Holden. "100 percent love and support for one of my best friends Robbie Rogers. You will be missed on the pitch. Amazing talent, amazing person," added Sacha Kljestan. Openly gay U.S. Women's National Team player Lori Linsey tweeted simply, "Welcome to the family."
U.S. Soccer also issued the following statement in support of Rogers.
"As a Federation we support all our athletes who have had the courage to address this deeply personal topic. We are proud of Robbie. He has been an outstanding representative of our National Team program for many years. We support him and wish him great success in the future."
In 2011, David Testo, who played for Major League Soccer's Montreal Impact, became the first former MLS player to come out, telling the CBC, "I really regret not having said publicly earlier. I fought with it all my life, my whole career. Living the life of a professional athlete and being gay is incredibly difficult."
Frank Klopas, head coach of Major League Soccer's Chicago Fire, said after Rogers' coming out that he would welcome him to his team. "Yesterday I thought he was a very good player and I still think that today, should Robbie want to return to the game, we would still be open to him being part of the Fire," he said in a statement.
Rogers concluded his post by saying he is looking forward to living life unburdened by his secret.
"I realized I could only truly enjoy my life once I was honest. Honesty is a bitch but makes life so simple and clear. My secret is gone, I am a free man, I can move on and live my life as my creator intended," he wrote.
Though he enjoyed a successful spell with the Columbus of Crew of Major League Soccer from 2007-2011, Rogers had seen his playing career deteriorate in recent years, suffering a series of injuries and struggling for playing time at second and third-tier English clubs.
For his part, Buzinski is hopeful Rogers doesn't walk away permanently from the sport he loves. "He's only 25 and he may get another shot. Ironically it might be the best thing that happens to him. Maybe he will be so liberated and free now that he will play better soccer."