On Robbie Rogers, The LA Galaxy, and Chick-fil-A
I found myself thinking of Robbie Rogers on Monday afternoon, as I find myself doing once or twice a month when mildly distracted and far from the Internet. Thinking about Rogers, the MLS Cup winner and first man to play a game in a North American top flight as an openly gay man, is a meta activity. The sequence of thoughts has as much to do with when we think of Robbie Rogers as what we think of him. To think of Rogers on matchdays, for instance, is to think of him as a mere footballer. To think of him at other times, however, is to concede that he is more than just another footballer.
I was thinking of how much I’d forgotten about Rogers — frankly, how boring he’s become — another American player near his prime being shifted about the pitch by the LA Galaxy’s insistence on signing whatever star of 2010 World Cup qualifying is available this month. That, in a sense, is what success looks like. It is, at the very minimum, not far from what many interested bystanders hoped for when Rogers came out in 2013: A world in which we might talk about his preferred position instead of clunky phrases like “the first man to play a game in a North American top flight as an out gay man.”
I was thinking about how conservative a vision of success that is, one in which newly minted rights or freedoms are reasonably subsumed by society but next steps are never discussed. This isn’t a soccer-specific phenomenon. Gay marriage was achieved (to the extent that it has been achieved) by framing the issue through a narrow, conservative lens. This formulation produced stunning progress, but that progress has not always translated into momentum for broader questions of LGBTQ rights.
I was thinking about how unfair all these associations are to Robbie Rogers. He’s just a soccer player and, by all accounts, a mensch. That should be the end of the story, but of course it isn’t, and that’s the real point. One can loop through these thoughts for hours. There’s much to be remembered and far too much to be forgotten.
I was thinking about Robbie Rogers, and then I came home to find this:
Los Angeles area @ChickfilA restaurants named official partner of the #LAGalaxy: https://t.co/JAiZYoGRIh pic.twitter.com/oz03nVe1Qd
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) March 7, 2016
Chick-fil-A, the fried chicken purveyor that donated millions to anti-gay groups and whose president, Dan Cathy, told Baptist Press “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit” in 2012, is now an official partner of the LA Galaxy. Not all of Chick-fil-A, mind you, just the franchisees in the Los Angeles market. That might well include those franchises operated by Jeremiah Cillpam, who toed the company line on such matters as gay marriage and abortion in a 2011 LA Weeklyprofile. Anyhow, ticket stubs will be redeemable for sandwiches at participating franchises after a Galaxy player scores off a free kick — though not, one presumes, on Sunday. Chalk it up as the full three points for cognitive dissonance.
Forgetting only works when it’s convenient.
Someone will probably ask Robbie Rogers about this development. If I can think of the question, an accredited reporter definitely can. Forgetting only works when it’s convenient. That, too, will be unfair to Robbie Rogers. Why can’t he just be a soccer player and a mensch? Why can’t Steven Gerrard answer the Chick-fil-A question? Why, to paraphrase Mario Balotelli, always him? The answer to all these questions is simple.
This, I fear, is where the infinite regress of the conservative victory scenario morphs into an abyss. So much gets forgotten about America five years ago, about Chick-fil-A’s well-earned reputation, and about what it meant for Robbie Rogers to come out in 2013 that LA Galaxy President Chris Klein can apparently say “Chick-fil-A and the LA Galaxy have a mutual, vested interest in engaging soccer fans and enhancing their game-day-experience” and the club’s communications staff will unironically launch that quote into the world. It’s one thing to want to momentarily forget that Robbie Rogers is gay as he darts up the sideline, but when it comes to forgetting this really does go above and beyond.
There was no next step. MLS’s first player came out as gay, and then what? The dreaded “puto!” chant once again reared its head at last weekend’s Chicago Fire game. It was denounced by many (most?) supporters, but it still happened. The day after the chant reappeared, LA Galaxy — home to the league’s lone openly gay player — announced “kickin’ for chicken [sic]” with Chick-fil-A. This is what a conservative victory looks like: Rogers gets to play with a minimum of fuss, but his club also welcomes Chick-fil-A. Sometimes it’s so conservative that one almost forgets to call it a victory.
UPDATE (3:50 PM): Robbie Rogers has issued a statement about this episode on his personal Facebook page. In addition to linking to it, we are embedding the full statement below: