Earlier this week, Robbie Rogers opened up about a passage in his book which paints US National Team head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, in a bad light for not reaching out to him when he came out. At MLS media day, he told a room full of reporters, "I think he and I need to have that conversation: a life conversation, if he's interested. I think it's more important to me than playing on the national team."
I made the argument it was imperative that Jurgen Klinsmann and US Soccer get a handle on the optics of this issue, as Rogers' side of the story was making Jurgen look bad. On Thursday, Klinsmann responded.
"We can have that [conversation] any time," Klinsmann told reporters. "No problem at all. He dropped me a note and I absolutely respect that, but this is his privacy so I felt that there was no need to respond. No, I can give him a call and we can have a nice cup of coffee any time."
So, issue settled? Well, not quite. This explanation raises a few questions. It's rather clear from the passage in Robbie's book that hearing from Klinsmann was important to him. Here is an excerpt.
It really saddened me that even after I wrote to him twice, he was silent.
Knowing this, there are two possible ways to interpret Klinsmann's explanation.
1. His decision to not respond was made without knowing just how much it would hurt Rogers if he didn't respond. Klinsmann incorrectly judged that Rogers needed privacy in that moment.
2. Jurgen knew that it was important to Rogers that they speak to one another. Perhaps not at the first attempt at contact, but surely by the second. He chose to ignore it and thus knowingly hurt Rogers' feelings.
And here is our problem, and the PR problem facing US Soccer. The first interpretation gives Jurgen the benefit of the doubt and should therefore be the default. However, it doesn't explain everything. If Rogers attempted to contact Jurgen twice, he would have had to misjudge the situation twice. Surely there is an implied urgency when a person makes a second attempt at contact, right? How could Jurgen not sense the importance to Rogers by the fact that he tried to reach out to him again, after Jurgen didn't respond the first time? It just doesn't quite add up.
The second interpretation makes Klinsmann look cowardly. If he knew how much Robbie wanted to talk to him, then what are we to make of his "privacy" explanation?
Again, it is important to stress that we do not know everything about the situation and probably never will. For this reason, lingering questions about the first explanation do not inherently make the second explanation true. It does, however, give ammunition to those inclined to believe the second option, and that's a problem.
As I stated before, this is a PR issue. In the absence of all the facts, perception becomes reality, and while Jurgen's comments may be adequate for some, the lingering questions still leave room for doubt. In other words, this PR fire has not fully been controlled.
In my previous article I asked that it be considered how the many young gay athletes who have been emboldened by Rogers' story, view the current situation between Rogers and Klinsmann. Now that Jurgen has offered an explanation, I'd ask we perform the same exercise. In the eyes of those athletes, have these Klinsmann quotes been enough to silence the ugly questions inherently brought up by Rogers' side of the story? I don't think they do.
So what more can Klinsmann do? Essentially, this is all going to boil down to the outcome of this meeting, or rather, the perceived outcome of this meeting. Klinsmann has to be able to get Robbie to drop his PR war. Whether that means giving Robbie a satisfying explanation, or simply convincing him to keep their feud outside the press, I don't know. Again, we don't know all the facts. What we do know, however, is that if Robbie Rogers continues to lob grenades in the direction of Klinsmann after this meeting occurs, US Soccer will continue to have this PR headache.