Gay Soccer Star Robbie Rogers on His New Memoir, ABC Sitcom and Boyfriend Greg Berlanti
By Stacy Lambe
Photo: Getty Images
It’s been quite a year for soccer star Robbie Rogers. Ever since the 27-year-old athlete first came out as gay in 2013 and subsequently announced his retirement from the sport, he’s been making headlines -- for all the right reasons. Not only did he help lead the charge for gay athletes to come out -- his announcement was quickly followed by NBA player Jason Collins and, earlier this year, NFL prospect Michael Sam -- Rogers signed with the LA Galaxy to become the first openly gay player in a major U.S. sports league and helped change the landscape for LGBT athletes.
In the months since, Rogers has become a star himself and expanded his reach beyond sports. In addition to starting a men’s fashion line, Halsey, he has also dabbled in modeling, teamed up with author Eric Marcus to write his new memoir, Coming Out to Play, which is in stores now and closed a deal to bring Men in Shorts, a sitcom loosely based on his life, to ABC.
ETonline caught up with Rogers to discuss why it was important to tell his story now, how boyfriend and TV producer Greg Berlanti (The CW’s Arrow, The Flash) helped him with his new show and those shirtless Instagram pics.
ETonline: Why was it important for you to write a book now?
Robbie Rogers: When I came out to the public the reaction I received was not the reaction I thought I was going to receive. Thousands, millions of people across the world read it and responded to it and connected to it in some ways. So I just thought it was important. It’s the kind of experience you share with people because it seems like so many struggle with this.
What was the biggest challenge in writing the memoir?
For me, it was going back to all my childhood memories and thinking things that I remember that really kind of hurt me -- to go through all of those again and have to relive those and talk about all those details -- that was the tough part.
Was there a memory in particular that you were avoiding or had a tough time addressing?
Not necessarily avoiding -- well, I guess you could say avoiding because I didn’t really want to talk about it -- but things I heard from my mom and dad. I think those were really difficult. Sharing the details of how I felt and what happened was a little sad.
Did you experience any kind of cathartic moment when you finished telling your story?
No. I think from the beginning going through all that stuff and working with Eric [Marcus] on everything and talking about everything was very therapeutic for me -- to work through those things and think about those things again. I think writing the book helped me as much as I hope it helps other people [who read it].
You landed a new sitcom, Men in Shorts, at ABC. What was it like pitching the concept to TV executives?
I had a lot of fun working with the writers and with producers just talking about the ideas and working on the characters and creating a pitch. The first pitch I had a lot of fun -- we went to NBC -- and then after I realized we had to pitch it to a bunch of other places. I was like, “Oh gosh, this is going to be difficult.” Obviously every time you pitch you need to be genuine and try to be funny. It was a totally new experience for me. But ABC loved it so I didn’t have to pitch it too many times. …I never thought I’d be doing something like this.
How much of the show will be based on your life and your own experiences?
We very much exaggerate a lot of the characters but I’m always sending notes to [executive producers] Claudia Lonow and Jordon Nardino about things that I thought were funny that happened in the locker room or traveling. So we try to use those stories and create an environment that’s funny but that’s also very realistic -- teaching people through laughter, which was the idea we had with this. When I went to [executive producers] Craig Zadan and Neil Meron and started talking about my experiences, they thought they were really funny. There are a lot of things that are similar but there are also a lot of differences.
It seems that book very much focuses on the tougher, darker facets of your childhood while the TV series sounds like a fun, exaggerated and comedic version of your life after coming out.
That’s been my way in the locker room -- showering with guys for the first time as a gay guy and traveling and talking about gay sex -- I thought it would be fun to laugh at guys, make fun of them and not too be sensitive when they make fun with me. And that’s the sports locker room. There’s a lot of banter. You have to be open to it and respectful and sensitive in a way and able to laugh at things. We have discussions about marriage equality and things that just don’t go on in locker rooms. It’s a very different atmosphere that I’ve ever been in and I think it’s a different atmosphere from that of a lot of other locker rooms. [The producers and I] just want to share that with people and teach people through laughter and just share that whole side. I think people will enjoy that more. …We just wanted to take a different approach.
A photo posted by Robbie Rogers (@robbierogers) on
Are you concerned about how people will infer what they see on screen is a direct reflection of your own life, say your relationship with Greg Berlanti?
Oh I’m sure people will read into stories and will write stuff, but I’m not worried about that. Again, we’re exaggerating things and making up characters. I mean, you can’t make the character be in a relationship right when he comes out. He has to go through the awkwardness of dating and the kind of stuff in the beginning when I came out. We’ll change a lot of things.
Have you turned to Greg at all for advice on the series?
Yes. When we were pitching it and creating an outline and all that stuff, I asked Greg for advice because he’s the best at what he does. He wasn’t involved in the beginning when I started working with [executive producers] Craig Zadan and Neil Meron but after I got the outline, he made notes. I definitely wanted [his input].
How has Greg helped you explore life outside of soccer, especially when it comes to writing and the show?
He’s just been encouraging and told me to follow me heart and do what I want to do. He’s a good person. And he just encourages me. When I need someone to talk to we talk about it.
You caused a little bit of a stir when you posted a shirtless pic to Instagram of you in bed reading your memoir.
I am naïve to think that would be such a big deal. I had teammates make fun of me the next day. And I was like, “Oh yeah, you guys are right.” I was just trying to have some fun with it, but it’s a little ridiculous. It’s weird to think that some people pay attention to it.