The spacious events hub Spectra at the Pacific Design Center played host to a number of heavy hitters just after sunset on Nov. 13, when Maria Shriver rubbed elbows with writer-director-producer Greg Berlanti, producer Donald De Line chatted up producer Laurence Mark, and DreamWorks’ Chip Sullivan joked with Disney/ABC Television Group’s Kevin Brockman. On the surface, the bash may have looked like a typical gathering of the industry’s boldface names, but this party featured a purpose, and an athletically gifted star.
The aforementioned names gathered to support L.A. Galaxy soccer player Robbie Rogers and toast the debut of his memoir, Coming Out to Play, published Nov. 25 by Penguin Books. Not every soccer star could draw such a crowd — one that included athletes Landon Donovan and Jason Collins along with musician Lance Bass and actors Stephen Amell and Zachary Levi — but the 27-year-old in a hunter green Marni suit isn’t the average name on the ESPN ticker.
The Rancho Palos Verdes native was the first openly gay man to compete in a top North American professional sports league when he came out of the closet while taking the field for the Galaxy in May 2013. He’s also Berlanti’s boyfriend, hence the hefty Hollywood showing at his book bash. But before Rogers, who is also developing an ABC sitcom based on his life called Men in Shorts, got a chance to accept any congratulations at his PDC party, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with him to discuss his book, how his life has changed since coming out, and the freshly signed Galaxy contract that will keep him with the team for another two years (with an option for a third).
Congratulations on your new contract. Do you at all look at this as confirmation that your sexuality is no longer an issue?
After being here for two years and going through all of the struggles and finally finding myself with the team…I feel validated. This just me as a footballer, or soccer player, and it doesn’t have anything to do with me being a gay man. It doesn’t have anything to do with trying to make history as the first gay soccer player in the United States or anything. It’s just me on the field with my teammates, and being an important part of the team alongside a bunch of great players. I’m the kind of person who likes to have my ducks in order and know what I’m doing for next year, so going into the Western Conference finals, it gives comfort in knowing that I can focus totally on the game and training.
What does it mean to you now to be an openly gay athlete?
I’m the only gay man in my locker room and I’m the only gay man in my league, so I had to kind of come to terms with that and be like, all right, well, that’s fine. I’m different than these guys, but they treat me with such respect, and they treat me like any teammate. Last season it was difficult for me, but now I’m really proud of being an out gay man playing this sport. I remember how hard it was for me, and I realize how hard it is for other guys. There’s obviously guys who are closeted who are playing sports in the United States, but I’m hoping that by playing and by writing this book that these guys can see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel and think, “OK, if he’s doing it then maybe I can.”
You mentioned the locker room. That’s often the first place people go with the conversation about homosexuality and sports. What is it like for you in the locker room now that you’re out?
When I was closeted, I would hear the most ridiculous homophobic things…and now it’s totally different. People are more sensitive and more aware of what they’re saying. They’re very, very supportive, and we’ll talk about things like marriage equality. I would be petrified, so scared to bring up a conversation like that with my teammates, but my teammates come to me. We still have the banter and the jokes, and yes, there still are a bunch of naked men taking showers together, but it’s a very different atmosphere. I’ve been naked and had discussions with guys in the shower and them asking me, “Is it hard for you to shower with guys?” I’ve been doing it for so long and…teammates become like brothers.
In the book you write about how profound it’s been to receive letters from closeted athletes. Have you heard from any professional athletes, gay or straight?
Only anonymously. I’ve had emails sent to my website saying, “Thank you so much, I’m a professional soccer player and I don’t think I’ll ever come out.” Whenever I get these messages, I remember that’s why I’m doing this and why I’m playing soccer.
You write about your boyfriend. How has having a successful Hollywood boyfriend changed your life?
I don’t really think of it in those terms, and he doesn’t either. We’re just a couple that is trying to work through a relationship and the ups and downs that come with it.
But it must open your life in a new way, mingling with people that you wouldn’t have mingled with before, right?
Yeah, but we’re both so antisocial. We hate events, we hate doing things (laughs).
Let’s talk fashion. You interned in the fashion business in London. Do you want to return to that business in the future?
Yeah, when I’m done with soccer I’ll focus more on that.
Who are your favorite menswear designers?
Oh, that’s a good one. I like a lot of the British designers, like Lou Dalton, Matthew Miller, Patrick Grant. Smaller designers but very detailed…and they make very beautiful garments.