Former U.S. national team winger Robbie Rogers has signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy, a move that will make him the first active openly gay male athlete to compete in an American professional team sport.
The Galaxy announced the multiyear deal Saturday afternoon after acquiring the right of first refusal for him from the Chicago Fire. LA traded fan favorite Mike Magee to the Fire in exchange for the rights to Rogers.
The Galaxy said Rogers will wear No. 14 and could be eligible to play Sunday night against the Seattle Sounders on ESPN2.
Speaking to USA Today, which broke the news Friday, Rogers said he first began considering a return last month after talking to a group of about 500 children at the Nike Be True LGBT Youth Forum in Portland, Ore.
"I seriously felt like a coward," he told the newspaper. "These kids are standing up for themselves and changing the world, and I'm 25, I have a platform and a voice to be a role model. How much of a coward was I to not step up to the plate?"
Rogers told The Associated Press his fears about returning to soccer were eased by the support he received from family, fans and players, including Galaxy star Landon Donovan.
"I don't know what I was so afraid of," Rogers said. "It's been such a positive experience for me. The one thing I've learned from all of this is being gay is not that big of a deal to people. ...
"People are just really growing and accepting and loving," he added. "Those other things are just not that important to them. I think as the younger get older and the generations come and go, I think times are just becoming more accepting."
Rogers wrote on his blog in February that he was retiring from soccer and that he is gay.
One month before coming out, Rogers had left Leeds United by mutual consent after spending more than a year in England, later saying he had been afraid of revealing his sexual orientation.
"Secrets can cause so much internal damage," Rogers wrote then on his website. "People love to preach about honesty, how honesty is so plain and simple. Try explaining to your loved ones after 25 years you are gay."
During his brief retirement from soccer he contemplated entering the London College of Fashion. But the break only confirmed for him that his competitive fire for soccer still burns.
"I had a lot of fear to come back to the game," Rogers told the AP, remembering countless instances of homophobia everywhere from the stands to locker rooms. "I was just afraid I was putting myself in an environment that in the past had affected my mental health because I always felt like an outcast. I felt that I couldn't be myself."
"But it's been amazing," he added. "It's been normal, just as it should be. I'm a soccer player. I happen to be gay, but I'm a professional soccer player, and I have been since I was 18, 19. ... I'm just really excited to go back to the game, and excited to deal with these stupid stereotypes that are out there with athletes and the gay community, just a bunch of different things."
Rogers, who received support from several of his former U.S. teammates after announcing he is gay, had joined the Galaxy for training earlier this month.
"To be honest, I had no plans of going back to football at all and definitely not this soon," Rogers told ESPN Radio in Dallas (103.3 FM) in May. "But I was looking over some video clips that MLS sent to I think it was CNN or ABC of me just training, fooling around and just enjoying football. ... And it kind of just like [made him say], 'Oh my gosh, I miss this stuff.'
"I just need a bit more time to evaluate and to see how things play out, but I've really enjoyed myself [in Galaxy training]. It feels normal to be back. I've grown up playing soccer my whole life. I've always been on a soccer field, so I feel at home on a soccer field."
Rogers' return comes less than a month after 12-year NBA veteran Jason Collins announced he is gay, becoming the first active male athlete to come out. Collins, however, has not competed since the announcement. He is a free agent.
"I would have thought more athletes would have taken that step, I guess," Rogers said. "People have seen how accepting everyone has been of Jason's and my story. I think it's going to take just more time and more athletes coming out. It's all about seeing that it's not something to be afraid of. It's not going to hurt your career."
U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe came out last year before the London Olympics and plays for Lyon in France. She's expected to join the Seattle team of the new National Women's Soccer League in mid-June.
Brittney Griner, the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft by the Phoenix Mercury, and Seimone Augustus of the Minnesota Lynx are among that league's openly gay players. Sheryl Swoopes, a retired WNBA All-Star, came out in 2005 during her playing days.
To get Rogers, the Galaxy had to trade Magee, their leading scorer this season with six goals, to Chicago.
Rogers' MLS rights were held by the Fire after they acquired them in a Feb. 4 trade with the Columbus Crew, who won the MLS Cup in 2008 with Rogers' help. But Rogers had said he was determined to play close to home if he decided to resume his career.
"I don't want to go to Chicago," Rogers, who grew up in Huntington Beach, Calif., told ESPN Radio in May. "I think if it comes down to you can only play in Chicago, then I probably won't go back. I need to do it somewhere where I'm totally 100 percent comfortable so ... I would most likely do it closest to my family. … I'm not closing the doors or saying no to anyone else that I've talked to but ... that would be my priority."
The Fire had formally granted Rogers permission to train with the Galaxy but had indicated they hoped to keep the former U.S. international, who has been capped 18 times and scored against Mexico in 2012 in Jurgen Klinsmann's first match in charge of the U.S. national team.
Rogers told USA Today that he is aiming to make the U.S. team for the 2014 World Cup.
"I want to get past the point where I was before," he told USA Today Sports. "I want to get back to the national team. I was so close to making the World Cup in 2010, I want to be there for the next one."
Coach Bruce Arena thinks Rogers already is in decent shape despite 18 months with little match experience. Arena figures Rogers could be a strong contributor to the Galaxy by July.
"Certainly the league, and I think the fans, are going to be receptive in a real positive way," Arena told the AP. "But we're not in this to pioneer social issues. We're trying to win games as a team, and we're trying to produce the best team we can. Robbie has shown us that he has the potential to still be a real good player in our league, and that's what we're hopeful of."
Rogers is joining his league's highest-profile team, with Donovan and Irish captain Robbie Keane leading a roster expected to contend for a third straight championship. After six years as David Beckham's home before the English midfielder's departure last December, the Galaxy know all about the spotlight that will be cast on Rogers.
"There's obviously going to be attention, and I think that we are no stranger to that," Galaxy President Chris Klein told the AP. "I think the biggest piece of this is the maturity of Robbie, and we're quite confident in that. We're there to stand behind him as an organization. He has shown to be a guy that has a tremendous amount of character and integrity, and I think he's going to fit our organization really well."
Rogers, who turned 26 on Sunday, also hopes to be a role model for gay teens while playing.
"I want to come back and be that voice, be that role model," Rogers told USA Today. "I want to compete on the field. I want to make it back to the national team. I want to be a role model. I have a lot of motivating factors working for me right now. ...
"There's a lot to be excited about. It's awesome to be part of a movement that is changing our society."
Information from ESPN.com's Marc Stein, The Associated Press and the Press Association was used in this report.