Earlier today, former Columbus Crew, Leeds United and USMNT player Robbie Rogers issued a statement via his blog, simultaneously coming out as gay and announcing he is stepping away from soccer. Fire supporters group Whiskey Brothers Aught Five (WB05) offers this open letter to Robbie in response.
Dear Robbie Rogers,
We didn’t like you very much when you wore Columbus Crew colors, to put it nicely. We’re Fire fans, members of the Section 8 supporters group WB05, and 2008 still stings for us as much as it still means a ton to you, as you recently said of your MLS Cup title that year.
But should you ever decide to return to professional soccer and play in MLS, and should that mean you end up playing for the Chicago Fire, the team that currently holds your rights, we want you to know this: we could not have more respect for your decision to come out in public and, as you put it, remove “the pain that lurks in the stomach at work, the pain from avoiding questions, and at last the pain from hiding such a deep secret.”
It was thinking about players like you who we knew existed in pro soccer but felt that kind of pain that inspired us last year to put together a 50’ wide tifo display that featured a picture of the Chicago skyline and the club crest atop rainbow colors adorned with the message: “Our City, Our Club. Our Diversity, Our Strength.”
It was a display made as part of a league-wide effort by supporters groups affiliated to the Independent Supporters Council to demonstrate the opposition to discrimination held by fans of MLS, under the title “Show Racism the Red Card.”
We fully supported that message, but we wanted to go further. It’s not enough for us to be only against racism, or to say simply there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed. When no player in MLS (or at the top tiers in England, where you most recently played) has felt comfortable enough to be open about their sexuality, it’s clear that fans need to convey to players that the overwhelming majority of us - at least speaking for those of us in Section 8 in Chicago - believe the sport is strengthened by its diversity and inclusiveness.
Your decision to come out is a personal one, as is your decision to step away from the sport. One of our members described his own experience in an email to our group following your announcement, and has helped many of us understand your situation better than we did previously.
“The process of coming out is one of the most taxing things I’ve ever gone through. Hell, I’m 30 years old and not fully out ‘cause, goddamn, it is hard. It was hard enough for me just being a supporter to be open about it (let’s be honest, sport is a hard world to be gay in). I can only imagine what that must be like at the top pro level. I don’t mean to imply there’s no way you all as straight people can understand the fear, anxiety and uncertainty that comes with this process, but I’d also say there’s really no other comparable/shared life experiences that are anything like coming out.”
To cut to the chase: we’re a bunch of Fire fans who want to say that we respect to the utmost degree what you’ve done and if you ever decide to come back to pro soccer, you’ll find a warm welcome in Chicago, especially if you do happen to be wearing red and white. If you’re wearing another club’s colors, you’ll get some abuse, but only because you’re not playing for the Chicago Fire.
And judging by the outpouring of support for you from fans, journalists and players around the league on Twitter since your letter was published, the American soccer community as a whole feels the same way.
All the best,
Whiskey Brothers Aught Five
An Affiliate Supporters Group of Section 8 Chicago