On Monday afternoon, the LA Galaxy and Los Angeles Kings made a visit to the White House where the President honored the MLS and NHL champs respectively. Such photo-ops with the winners of various professional leagues is a time honored tradition in American sports, and when it comes to MLS, it's always fun to see Presidents, no matter who they are, try to pretend they know anything about the league.
But there was something a little different about this particular White House visit. President Obama went out of his way to commend Robbie Rogers.
"And finally, I want to recognize what Robbie Rogers of the Galaxy has done for a lot of people by blazing a trail as one of professional sports' first openly gay players. My guess is that, as an athlete, Robbie wants to win first and foremost - that's what competition is all about. But, Robbie, you've also inspired a whole lot of folks here and around the world, and we are very proud of you"
When Robbie Rogers came out to the world on his personal website in 2013, as well as retire from the sport, he made quite a stir in the soccer world. But Robbie couldn't stay away from soccer for long. After accepting an invitation to train with the LA Galaxy, Rogers soon found an environment in LA where he felt comfortable returning to the sport as an openly gay man, and in doing so, Rogers made history.
Coming off an injury and showing visible signs of rust from not playing soccer for so long, Rogers' first season with the Galaxy was awful. To make matters worse, the Galaxy parted ways with a much beloved player by fans, Mike Magee, in order to acquire the rights to sign him, which didn't exactly endear him to the fans. The fact that Mike Magee reportedly wanted to go to Chicago didn't matter much to Galaxy fans, and Robbie Rogers bashing soon became the norm in LA.
But Rogers took it all in stride. During the 2014 season, a string of injuries left the Galaxy shorthanded at left back, and although Rogers is naturally a left midfielder, he worked his butt off to learn the position so he could contribute to the team. And Rogers did far more than simply plug a hole. He quickly became one of the best left backs in the entire league, and was an integral part of the Galaxy's 2014 MLS Cup run, winning Galaxy fans over in the process.
Perhaps far more importantly, ever since his return to soccer, Robbie Rogers has been an inspiration to young gay athletes across the country. Take the story of Michael Martin, an all state high school goal keeper in West Virginia who found the courage to come out thanks to Robbie Rogers.
"My soccer hero and the man who inspired me to come out is Robbie Rogers of the Los Angeles Galaxy... He gave me hope and confidence to be true to myself. Once he came out I started to contemplate doing the same myself and being proud of who I am."
And Rogers is far more than a passive inspiration to the LGBT community. Of late he's become more and more comfortable being an advocate. In an editorial he penned for the the USA Today, for instance, Rogers was critical of FIFA for choosing Russia and Qatar for the next two World Cup, countries which are openly hostile towards the LGBT community.
Rogers' story is truly an inspiring one, and it's wonderful to hear this acknowledged by the President. Robbie was certainly appreciative.
"Just for him to mention where I've come from is special for me," he told reporters.