Roy Simmons, the offensive lineman who played in the NFL from 1979-83 and then came out publicly as gay in 1992, died at his home in the Bronx Thursday. He was 57. The cause of death was unknown, though friends told the New York Daily News that Simmons had been fighting pneumonia.
At the time, Simmons was only the second NFL player to declare he was gay, following Dave Kopay by 17 years. Simmons came out on the "Phil Donahue Show" in 1992, then promptly disappeared from public view for 11 years. Unlike Kopay, or later Esera Tuaolo, Simmons was not celebrated in the gay community for coming out as an NFL player. He had HIV, battled drug addiction his whole life, was homeless for a while and once almost jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge to kill himself. He also said he was raped by a neighbor when he was 11 in his hometown of Savannah, Ga.
In 2006, Simmons published his autobiography, "Out of Bounds. Coming Out of Sexual Abuse, Addiction, and My Life of Lies in the NFL Closet." The book detailed accounts of sex parties, gin and Quaalude binges, copious amounts of cocaine, dressing in drag, and being a prostitute for $15 to $20 a pop.
"I guess I wasn’t really your average stoned-out crackhead," Simmons wrote. "In fairness to myself, most crackheads can’t say they ever played professional football. They can’t say they played in a Super Bowl, can’t say they were ever picked in an NFL draft or did battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive line in front of 75,000 screaming fans. They can’t say they’ve been on national television, under bright lights, playing tag with the big men, making huge salaries and working out endorsement deals with international sportswear companies. I had my up time. The average crackhead knows nothing but down. I had my up time and I chose to do nothing with it. I let it slip away like I’d let of everything else in my life. My fiancée. My child. My family. Myself."
Simmons played with the New York Giants from 1979-82 and the Washington Redskins in 1983, playing in the Super Bowl with the Redskins. "All the guys in the locker room loved him," Giants star Harry Carson, Simmons teammate, told the Daily News. "He had a very gentle demeanor. He was all about having fun, laughing and smiling and doing his job."
Simmons' playful side was shown in a 2006 appearance on the Howard Stern radio show where he played "kill, fuck, marry." Simmons' choices, without elaborating, were: "Kill Elway. Fuck Marino. Marry Montana." Simmons also guessed that there were one or two gay players on each NFL team and told Stern that he once had sex with a Giants teammate he would not name.
His tortured life, with its many crises, was apparent with his appearance in 2005 on Pat Robertson Christian Broadcasting Network where said he had found the Lord and referred to his "former lifestyle." "[My pastor and I] spoke on and learned about homosexuality and the connotations and everything that go along with it. It's really against God’s will," Simmons said. He later worked in a drug rehab halfway house.
Simmons also talked about the shame he felt being gay in a sport like football. His story is sad and I wonder how much happier he could have been had he played today when attitudes have dramatically shifted. His longtime friend Jimmy Hester told the Daily News that: "Roy would be happy that Michael Sam could have his lover in the stands or at team parties.
"The rape and being closeted in the NFL really killed him," Hester told the New York Post. "On top of that, drugs played a big role in his life. But when you're a pioneer there's no one else to follow. You're out there on your own. No one stood up for him. He was smart, funny, polite and college educated. But he never really got the chance to feel worthy."
Simmons' survivors include his daughter, Kara Jackson; his grandson, Xavier; and five siblings.