President Barack Obama hails LA Galaxy's Robbie Rogers for "blazing a trail" for gay athletes

WASHINGTON – In many ways, the LA Galaxy’s visit to the White House was more of the same: the defending MLS Cup Champions have found themselves invited to the east room on three occasions in the past four years, perennial winners who’ve made themselves at home in the nation’s capital.

On Monday morning, President Barack Obama made all the usual jokes. He chided the Stanley Cup-winning LA Kings, who also took part in the ceremony, for eliminating his hometown Blackhawks. He name-dropped the Galaxy’s Juninho and Leonardo – “They’ve got that Brazilian one-name thing going on, which is always very cool.” And there was a tip of the cap to Landon Donovan, “the greatest soccer player this country has ever produced."

But there was at least one difference in this year’s ceremony, a mark of progress from years gone by. For the first time, an openly gay male professional athlete happened to be among those invited to participate in the celebration, and president Obama did not hesitate to celebrate it.

"I want to recognize what Robbie Rogers of the Galaxy has done for a lot of people by blazing a trail as one of professional sports’ first openly gay players," he said. "My guess is that, as an athlete, Robbie wants to win first and foremost — that’s what competition is all about. But, Robbie, you’ve also inspired a whole lot of folks here and around the world, and we are very proud of you.”

Rogers seemed moved by the comments and shared his thoughts after the ceremony, speaking on a wind-swept north lawn.

“I was really surprised actually,” Rogers said. “[We’re] from all walks of life, but to be here because we won a championship is special and it’s special to be recognized by the President. Just for him to mention where I’ve come from – it’s special to me.”

Rogers joins a handful of other athletes who’ve taken the important step of coming out publicly, helping to foster a greater public acceptance of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender athletes. On Monday, Rogers acknowledged the importance of his role while hoping for continued progress.

“There’s a long way to go for the LGBT community to go in sports,” said a pensive Rogers. "We’re slowly getting there but it’s changing – slowly, it’s changing. There are guys like [former Missouri lineman] Michael Sam and [former Washington Wizards player] Jason Collins and a few female athletes. I’m happy to be a small part of it."