(This story was published in 2006).
Roy Simmons, the former NFL player who came out as gay in 1992, is alleging that the league denied him a credential for the Super Bowl media center because he is gay and HIV-positive. The NFL denies this.
Simmons and attorney Gloria Allred held a press conference outside of NFL headquarters on Thursday demanding an investigation. He said that he asked for a credential for the center on Feb. 2, three days before the Super Bowl in Detroit. He also asked for two tickets for the game, which the Pittsburgh Steelers won 21-10 over the Seattle Seahawks, and a party.
According to Simmons, an offensive lineman with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins from 1979-84, the NFL told him there were no more credentials. But Allred alleges that the NFL indicated it would give other passes after Simmons asked for one, AP reported. "I was once part of the inner circle -- now I'm standing on the outside looking in," said Simmons, who also wasn't given tickets to the game or the party.
"It is impossible for all of these requests to be met, and there were many people, apart from Mr. Simmons, who were disappointed," a statement from the NFL said. The league said that it is inundated by requests for last-minute credentials and tickets and that they are handled by different representatives from the league.
It said that "far from being hostile to Mr. Simmons, the last word back to him from our office was to contact us after the Super Bowl about the possibility of speaking to our rookies at their annual June symposium."
Allred said she wanted an investigation to determine whether Simmons' request was denied because he no longer fit the image of an NFL player or whether the NFL "is inherently homophobic and prefers that a gay football player remain in the closet," AP said.
I have been very critical of how the NFL has handled gay issues in the past, from players not being punished for making homophobic remarks to the NFL Shop refusing to sell jerseys with "gay" on the back. But in this case, I see it more of a case of opportunism by Simmons than homophobia by the league. Here's why:
--Having been a sports editor for a newspaper, I know how tight the NFL credentialing system is. Requests generally have to be made weeks, if not months, in advance, any many legitimate news sites are denied. As Deadspin put it, "if you have a “.com” in your title, and “ESPN” doesn’t come before it, you’re might as well be some tailgating dude who just wants better seats." While I am sure some favoritism does exist, asking for a credential and tickets three days prior to the biggest sporting event in the country is pretty laughable.
--Simmons is promoting a book, and there is no better way to get attention than to accuse the most powerful sports league in the country of discrimination. Simmons' book, "Out of Bounds," is a searing and brutally honest account of a player who wrestled with his sexuality and drug abuse. And standing in front of league headquarters certainly got him some free press, and likely more sales.
--Regardless of her merits as an attorney, Gloria Allred is a notorious publicity hound (Scott Peterson's former mistress Amber Frey was a client). I imagine she couldn't have said yes fast enough when she heard of Simmons' complaint. Allred can attack a live microphone faster than Joey Porter can a quarterback on a blitz.
--If the NFL is sincere about having Simmons speak to its rookie symposium, that is a sign of progress and would contradict his claim that the league "prefers that a gay football player remain in the closet." Having Simmons speak to a group of rookies as an openly gay man and former player with some riveting lessons to impart could do a lot more good in the long run than him showing up in the Super Bowl media center to "talk about the importance of HIV testing."
If I were Simmons, I would drop the silly demands for an investigation and accept the NFL's offer to speak at the symposium. Only if the league rescinded its offer would I get behind Simmons and hold the league accountable in this case.