(This story was published in 2003).
(2006 Update: Simmons on which NFL player he would "do," kill and marry)
Roy Simmons is only one of three former NFL players to publicly disclose his homosexuality. And until Sunday he was the most invisible.
Simmons, an offensive lineman with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins from 1979-84, came out as gay on the Phil Donahue show in 1992, then promptly disappeared. No more stories would appear about Simmons for the next 12 years.
Simmons, 47, broke his silence in an interview in the New York Times (strangely, the story ran in the Style section, not Sports) and his story is a compelling tale of a star athlete who hit rock bottom and is trying to get back up.
In the Times story, we learn this about Simmons:
- He is HIV-positive.
- He was raped by a neighbor when he was 11.
- He was in drug rehabilitation twice for drugs and alcohol and has been sober for two years.
- He once came close to jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.
- He has been homeless for a brief time.
Writer Maureen Orth tells why Simmons has decided to become more visible: “Mr. Simmons said he wants to reach athletes who may still be in the closet and as tortured as he was. … Feeling better than he has in years, he will appear [Dec. 1] at an AIDS benefit in New York, and he is booked for television interviews and a public service announcement for cable TV. On [Nov. 27], Mr. Simmons told the daughter he had with a high-school sweetheart that he was H.I.V. positive. He said he hopes that by telling his story, he will help prevent other men in his situation, especially blacks, from putting male or female partners in harm's way.
" ‘I'm sure there are those out there who are suffering, and if I help just one person, it's worth it,’ Simmons said. ‘You have to free yourself, and let it go. The secrecy and all that stuff brings on sickness.’ ”
The article details the shame and isolation Simmons felt about being attracted to men and the central role the rape had. “Years later as an adult, he tortured himself wondering--often while drunk or high on drugs--if he would have been straight if he had not been assaulted,” Orth writes. “He blamed himself and suffered from a diminished sense of self-worth and confusion over his sexual identity. ‘I think all my life it affected me,’ he said. ‘The acting out--the sex with the boys, the girls — the drinking.’ ”
The article also weaves in the difficulty of being black and gay--the “Down Low” concept where black men live a deeply closeted gay or bisexual life. It also delves into the familiar territory of how hard it is to be a gay professional athlete. "The N.F.L. has a reputation," Simmons said, "and it's not even a verbal thing--it's just known. You are gladiators; you are male; you kick butt."
An interesting aside comes from Butch Woolfolk, a former teammate of Simmons: "I played with four gay guys. Roy is the only one I didn't know about."