Rogers had every right to handle it how he did, and he deserves support for it. Yet the reaction from fans and reporters in the American soccer community (many of whom, it must be said, tend to be heterosexual and cisgender) has been mostly to praise Rogers for handling it “the correct way” and for being “classy.” What signals does that praise send to others? What rules does it covertly set about how to deal with homophobic abuse? How will future transgressors of those rules be received?
These are not hypothetical questions. Plenty of people make the mistake of calling Robbie Rogers the first gay player in MLS, but that’s not true. He’s the first openly gay player in MLS. Sooner rather than later, more gay players will come out of the closet and live openly, and not every player is going to engage in the delicate dance of respectability politics. One day a gay footballer— and who knows, maybe it’ll be Rogers next time— will walk off the pitch in response to homophobic abuse. How will we react when that happens?