TUKWILA — Playing collegiate and (very shortly) professional soccer exposed me to a number of different team environments and cultures. The one constant throughout was every locker room was a safe place.
Players often see the game as an escape from real life, and stepping into that room with the 30 other guys on the team never failed to put a smile on my face. For professionals at the highest level, whose every move is scrutinized publicly and every questionable quote and action studied ruthlessly, the need to escape must be intensified.
Seattle Sounders FC utility man Brad Evans has far more experience than I do, so I asked him for his perspective on Robbie Rogers, his former teammate and roommate with the Columbus Crew, and Rogers' decision to come out as gay and retire from soccer in a blog post.
I originally did the interview for a friend of mine in Florida writing a story, but that fell through. Although the interview is a little old (late February), it still carries meaning and Evans' usual analytical thinking.
His responses only solidified the notion that every Major League Soccer locker room would be accepting of an openly gay teammate.
You played with Robbie Rogers for a while, so you got to know him pretty well. What was he like as a teammate?
"I lived with him. We've known each other for a long time. Like I said before (in earlier interviews), knowing the person before the circumstances is the biggest thing. As soon as news comes out, people are always quick to judge, but if it was a good friend of theirs of 15 years who then decided to come out, I think their situation or stance on it would be a little bit different.
"But yeah, (he's) just a great guy — a lot of passion for soccer. He loves soccer. Probably the most surprising thing to me is him hanging up the boots at such a young age. I know everybody's situation is different, and I know in light of the situation, everybody's going to handle it differently.
"You don't know how other people are going to take it; you don't know — no matter what the locker room says — what really goes on inside of a locker room. But as a person, (Rogers is) a great guy. One of my best friends."
Have you spoken to him since he made his decision?
"Yeah, of course. Obviously, with him being in England, the communication is via text and email, but I just saw him in December. My wife and I had dinner with him in London. Everything was status quo, and then the news breaks.
"But I had an inkling, as time sort of went on and just talking with him and knowing his situation in London after getting a bad concussion, breaking his ankle, having the surgery and then spending some time away from soccer and finding out what was really important. ...
"Obviously, he has his clothing line as well that he works with. So I think fashion is a big part of his life now. We'll see where he goes from here."
Since this happened, everybody has been talking about how welcoming MLS is and how a gay player would be received here. What do you think makes it so accepting?
"I always think that the culture of soccer has been a little bit different than the culture of other sports. We're not known as the rough-and-tough, beat-other-guys-up type of sport. Maybe baseball is known for the machismo and bigger guys. Football is obviously the same way, and basketball has its own sort of stigma that kind of comes with it.
"I think if you look around, there are so many different types of people here. I think you look at every other sport, and it's pretty much the same. You look here, and there are so many different cultures, and you have to be accepting of those cultures. If you're not, you're going to find yourself on the outside looking in at ‘Why are these guys so accepting, and I'm not?'
"So I think it goes both ways. Anytime somebody comes from Germany, they're welcomed with open arms — or wherever they're from. I think maybe we're a little bit more cultured than the other sports."
Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl published a survey of anonymous players in which only one said a gay player would not be accepted in his team's locker room. Do you think it would matter? What would you say to a player in the league right now who is gay and scared to come out?
"What I would say to them is everybody has their own way of doing things. Regardless of if they think it's going to be a good reception or a bad reception, ultimately, it's up to them and how they perceive it. What we can do is provide that comfortable atmosphere in the locker room where they don't feel ousted. In the locker room, in the training room, wherever it is, you have to make everybody feel comfortable.
"For me, I could give two shits. I don't care. I'm open to everybody. We have a lot of fun in the locker room, and I know that this is a great group of guys.
"It is what it is; it's not like somebody's in the locker room and they're trying to hit on you. This is a job. This is a profession. This is what they do for a living, most importantly.
"For me, it wouldn't matter, and I can vouch for a lot of guys on this team that I don't think it would matter."
It's obvious that the locker room is a safe place and players should be able to go in there and be themselves. It's a place to just be around your teammates and do your own thing.
"Yeah. When you're done playing, you miss soccer, but you think back to all the times you had in the locker room or on the bus or whatever it is after training and before training, and those are the things you remember. That's where you build your relationships.
"For somebody to say that it wouldn't be OK after you've spent six or seven years with them in the locker room and then all of a sudden — just because you have a sexual preference — that it's not OK is bullshit.
"I tell you what: I have a lot of fun in the locker room, and whether it's with clothes on or without clothes on, I don't care. It's a special place, and for me, I would feel more than comfortable. I don't care."