Major League Soccer's first (and only) openly gay male player says he won't boycott future World Cups hosted in antigay countries like Russia and Qatar. Instead, Robbie Rogers plans to make a statement if and when he takes to the pitch in Moscow in 2018, or Qatar in 2022.
"I think what I've learned from my experience of coming out, and being present in the locker room, is that by being there it is more of a statement than boycotting or something like that," The Los Angeles Galaxy fullback told the U.K. Mirror Thursday. "So if I were to go to Russia or Qatar then I would do it, and I would be extremely flamboyant about it."
This isn't the first time Rogers has been critical of the draconian policies of the nations hosting the next two World Cups. In January, the out athlete blasted not only the host nations, but soccer's international governing body, FIFA, for selecting locations hostile to LGBT fans and athletes. While homosexuality is not technically illegal in Russia, the nationwide ban on so-called gay propaganda has been used since 2013 to crack down on and silence LGBT demonstrators and allies. Qatar bans same-sex sexual activity outright.
"If actions speak louder than words, then the message FIFA sends to gay athletes is painfully clear," Rogers wrote in an essay published in USA Today. "Not only don't they have our backs, our lives don't matter. So for any gay soccer player who has hopes of playing for the U.S. National Team at the World Cup, being open about their sexuality could have real consequences when they set foot in countries with laws that could land them in jail."
Since coming coming out in an emotional letter in February 2013, wherein he also temporarily retired, Rogers has been an increasingly outspoken advocate for equality and ending homophobia in sports. Earlier this month, Rogers was featured in a public service announcement for the MLS's "Don't Cross the Line" campaign, which calls for "unity, respect, fair play, equality and acceptance" both on the field and off. OutSports notes that Rogers scored his first goal as a member of the Galaxy during the club's Pride Night, to the thunderous applause of a stadium filled by LGBT and allied fans waving rainbow flags.
His memoir, Coming Out to Play, frankly addresses the athlete's struggles with depression and living in the closet, and represented the Guardian Award to denim-maker Levi's at the 2014 OutFest film festival. Rogers's experience as a young, professional footballer coming out serves as the inspiration for a forthcoming scripted comedy series on ABC, Men in Shorts, on which Rogers is a producer.
Last December, Rogers made history as the first openly gay male athlete to win a major professional sports title in the United States, when his L.A. Galaxy took home the MLS Cup in a 2-1 victory over the New England Revolution.