Coming Out to Play is a Must-Read

Coming Out to PlayIf you thought an openly gay athlete could have no more surprises, pick up a copy of Robbie Rogers’ memoir Coming Out to Play this week and prepare to be surprised.

Starting early on in the opening chapters, Rogers tells a very personal story. This is not just the “athlete in the closet” story that one might expect, but it’s also a portrait of his family and their ups and downs throughout his young life. It’s also the story of a rising soccer star beyond the issues of his sexuality and the decisions that a player viewed as a young phenomenon must make. When it comes to this time in his life I would have been interested in hearing more about his time at the University of Maryland and playing with other current MLS stars like Maurice Edu and Graham Zusi.

Ultimately this is a story of a man who spent his life masking his sexuality and the process he took to reveal his whole self to the world. There are many stories about Rogers self-censoring his language, monitoring his behavior with friends and family, and doing with women what his peers expected him to be doing with women. “Heartbreaking” doesn’t begin to describe some of these moments, and anyone who has been in the closet will be able to identify with much of what Rogers went through.

The most satisfying parts of the book are Rogers telling his coming out process. He goes into great detail about how he tells each of his family members while they are in California and he is in London. It’s deeply personal, and deeply moving. One of my favorite writing structures throughout the book that particularly plays well through this coming out process is handing the reigns to various family members for their first-hand accounts. Many will read the chapter “Will They Still Love Me?” and think, “I can do that. I can handle that.”

He documents his public coming out process as well and how the world reacted. It is very interesting to see which messages touched him the most that weekend in February of 2013. He talks about his past teammates, celebrities, and even the well-wishes from Major League Soccer players who had previously been suspended for using anti-gay language.

I do have one quibble and warning for readers. Coming Out to Play is clearly written with an intention to reach a very broad audience. It’s for soccer fans who may not be as familiar with the LGBT community and it’s for LGBT folks who may not be as familiar with soccer. This leads to some explanations that some with familiarity to both aspects of the book may find eye roll-worthy. I admire the desire to take the time to explain basics to the uninitiated but perhaps it could have been done more elegantly.

Coming Out to Play is an excellent read. It’s very well-paced and well-written. I finished in less than a weekend thanks to a combination of the deft writing and riveting stories that kept me from setting it down. Rogers tells his tale immensely well with the help of Eric Marcus who also had the assist on Greg Louganis’ best-selling memoir. Together they put together one of the most memorable and inspirational reads I’ve had in a very long time.

Coming Out to Play from Penguin Books is available everywhere beginning November 25.


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