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Originally published May 27, 2013 at 4:42 PM | Page modified May 27, 2013 at 10:14 PM

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Robbie Rogers, MLS' first openly gay player, calls return 'perfect'

The sports world is evolving, and Robbie Rogers is among those leading the way. The Galaxy midfielder took the field in Sunday's win against the Sounders as the first openly gay player in MLS history. He called the moment "perfect" and "normal."

Seattle Times staff reporter

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CARSON, Calif. — The smile said it all.

As Robbie Rogers trotted onto the field Sunday, becoming the first active and openly gay player in MLS history, he was beaming. And there was a clear message behind the wide grin that lit up The Home Depot Center:

This is OK. I'm back. This is normal.

"This was great — very supportive," the Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder said after a 4-0 drubbing of Sounders FC. "I keep saying the word 'normal,' but it was. ... It's just good to be back, and I'm excited to move on from here."

The sports world is evolving, and Rogers is among those leading the way.

A few months ago, though, the story was shaping up differently. Rogers announced in February that he was stepping away from the game, a move that coincided with an emotional blog post revealing his sexual orientation.

The sport Rogers loves quickly drew him back.

"Part of me was just afraid — not afraid, but a little nervous, I guess," Rogers, 26, said. "I understand that, I guess, historically this is a big thing, but for me, it's just another soccer game. So I've kind of been battling with both of those things: 'OK, a soccer game: I've done this a million times.' But then, obviously, I'm not naive, I know people are watching."

Rogers' place as an openly gay male sports figure is a bit fuzzy. Many have claimed he's the first to participate in a major American sports league, though MLS is still battling to earn that "major" designation.

There is also some debate as to whether he's the first, with NBA center Jason Collins (who is active, albeit a free agent) coming out last month and MLB outfielder Glenn Burke known to have been gay by teammates and coaches in the 1970s.

Ultimately, being first or second or third is inconsequential. The undeniable effect of Rogers' return is that it turns a big deal — one covered internationally — into a smaller story for the next openly gay athlete.

"Hopefully the hype of it is over, and for him, too," said Galaxy teammate Landon Donovan. "We can just get back to getting comfortable, which is what he wants to do."

L.A. coach Bruce Arena said "in a lot of ways the easy part is over."

"Now the difficult part remains, and that's getting him positioned to play, and that's going to take some time," he added. "The plan is just to move him along and see how he progresses."

Soccer first, just like Rogers would have it. But that won't take away from Sunday's transcendent moment.

"It was perfect," Rogers said. "It was really perfect."

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or jmayers@seattletimes.com.

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