EXCLUSIVE: The story of professional soccer player Robbie Rogers, who became the first openly gay man to compete in a top North American professional sports league, is headed to television. Universal Television has optioned Rogers’ story rights for Craig Zadan and Neil Meron’s Storyline Entertainment to develop and produce a comedy series inspired by the young athlete’s experiences.
Rogers spent one season at the University of Maryland, helping the college team win an NCAA Championship. He quickly turned pro, joining the Dutch team Heerenveen. He then spent five seasons with Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew, winning the MLS Cup, and competed in the 2008 Olympics. Following a stint with English team Leeds United, on February 15, 2013, Rogers announced his retirement from professional soccer at age 25 and revealed he was gay. He said he was retiring to avoid the scrutiny from the press and fans, but after speaking at an LGBT youth event two months later, he decided that stepping down is a cowardly thing to do and he should use his platform to be a role model. The next month, he joined the LA Galaxy, becoming becoming the first openly gay man to play in a top North American professional sports league (NBA player Jason Collins, who had come out earlier that year, was a free agent at the time of his announcement).
Zadan and Meron will serve as executive producers on the show, which falls under the duo’s overall deal at Universal TV. Rogers will serve as a producer. Storyline’s VP Development Mark Nicholson, who helped bring this to the company, will also serve in a producing capacity. Zadan and Meron are coming off a strong showing at the Emmys last week, netting a total of 18 noms for all of their event/longform projects — eight for the Oscars telecast, four for the Bonnie & Clyde miniseries, four for Sound Of Music LIVE! and two for the Anna Nicole movie.
There had been strong Hollywood interest in stories about gay pro athletes. Out At Home: The Glenn Burke Story is a feature in the works that tells the story of Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A’s player Burke, who was honest with his teammates and management that he was gay at a time in the 1970s when such a revelation was unheard of. OWN greenlighted and then shelved a docu-series about football’s first openly gay player, Michael Sam. After keeping their sexuality private for decades, professional athletes have started speaking out in the past couple of years, with Rogers, Collins and Sam breaking ground. Rogers’ deal was brokered by WME.