Friday, November 28, 2014

Book Review: "Coming Out to Play" by Robbie Rogers with Eric Marcus

There's a point toward the end of Robbie Rogers' new memoir, Coming Out to Play, when he recounts the first words he said to former NBA player Jason Collins, who had just come out of the closet. "The first thing I said after he introduced himself was, 'Congratulations, but it feels a little weird to congratulate you for being honest.'"

Rogers deserves congratulations for the same reason. Coming Out to Play is an honest, often emotional account of his struggle to accept himself and his sexuality, and reconcile it with what he believes will be the reactions of his ardently Catholic family, his professional soccer teammates, and the world. It is a book about how hard it is to keep your true self hidden from everyone around you, and how that pressure dampens your ability to enjoy even the things you love the most.

Since I don't really follow soccer except for the madness around the World Cup, I'll admit I hadn't ever heard of Robbie Rogers until the spring of 2013, when I heard that he had announced he was gay at the same time he was retiring from professional soccer. When shortly thereafter he decided to play again, this time for the LA Galaxy, he became the first openly gay male athlete to play a game in a major professional team sport in North America. And although it took him a long time to come to terms with who he is, since that point he has embraced his opportunity to be a role model, especially for young people, to demonstrate that your sexuality doesn't define you, and it shouldn't stop you from doing what you love.

"...I don't represent the gay community and I'm not giving anyone a voice other than myself. If anything, I like to think that I'm speaking for myself and for all people who feel like they've been discriminated against. That's a role I'm happy to embrace."

Although our lives are vastly different, Rogers' story definitely hit home for me in a number of ways. I, too, spent a long time trying to figure out a way not to be gay, and once I realized that was an impossible task, I worried about how my family and friends would react. And while it probably wasn't a shock to most people when I eventually told them, it was a relief to be completely honest instead of hiding a part of my life, worrying about which pronouns to use, and not being able to enjoy my life as I was experiencing it.

I thought this was a really well-written and engrossing book. Rogers is a very complex person with many interests far beyond sports. He isn't afraid to portray himself or his actions as unsympathetic at times, and he doesn't excuse certain things he did. You can almost feel how tightly wound he was through most of his life, and how finally revealing his true self to his family was tremendously freeing and cathartic, and I'm not ashamed to admit, it (unsurprisingly) made me a little emotional.

I hope that this book makes its way into the hands of those who need it most. Rogers may not have set out to be a role model, but he definitely is one, and we are fortunate that he is willing to share his journey and his feelings with us. Hopefully this book will change more than one mind, and make a difference in more than one life.

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