Roy Simmons, Gay Former Football Player, Dies at 57

2.26.2014

By Jerry Portwood

The former offensive lineman for the Giants and the Washington Redskins—and one of the few N.F.L. players to have publicly come out as gay after retiring—died in his apartment in the Bronx.

According to Roy Simmons's brother, the former N.F.L. football player died Thursday, Feb. 20, in his apartment in the Bronx at the age of 57. The cause was complications related to pneumonia. Simmons learned he had H.I.V. in 1997 and had other health problems, according to his brother Gary. It's the end to a very tumultuous life that was lived partly in the media spotlight.

Roy Simmons was a star football player while a student at Georgia Tech when he was drafted in the eighth round by the Giants in 1979. He played in the N.F.L. until 1984: three for the Giants and one for the Redskins. At 6-foot-3 inches and 260 pounds, he earned the nickname Sugar Bear by his teammates in college.

Later, in 1992, after retiring from professional football, he made an announcement on The Phil Donahue Show (with a former girlfriend and family members watching), revealing that he was gay. At the time he was the second former N.F.L. player to make such an admission publicly (David Kopay was the first, in 1975, and, later, Esera Tuaolo also came out of the closet.)

In 2006, Simmons published a revealing autobiography titled, Out of Bounds: Coming Out of Sexual Abuse, Addiction, and My Life of Lies in the NFL Closet. In the book, he admitted to having wild and crazy nights, including the before he played with the Redskins in the 1984 Super Bowl, his last game in the N.F.L. In the stands that Sunday, he wrote, were friends he had invited, including three lovers—two female, one male. Somehow, he continued to keep his complicated sexuality a secret.

In a 2006 interview with Windy City Times, he explained: "The book is about diversity—sexual identity; race; alcohol and drug abuse; wild and crazy nights; and near-deadly times. After reading my book, you might say that I probably should have been dead a while back. And I know there were times in my life when I could have been killed, probably should have been killed. But I'm here."

Simmons explained that he had been suicidal and homeless at points in his life and, when the book came out, he was working as a supervisor at a drug halfway house. He advocated for everyone to get tested for HIV and then be honest—"to yourself, your family and any sex partners"—about the results. He also admitted to having been raped at the age of 11 by the postman and wanted to stop the rapists and put them in jail. "Have it in your heart to have the conviction to come clean with your results," he said.

In addition to his brother Gary, the New York Times reports that his his survivors include his daughter, Kara Jackson; a sister, Katherine; three other brothers, Larry, Ricky and LaTawn; and a grandson.

As the Times also reports in his obituary, Simmons, a born-again Christian, was the subject of a video profile made by the Christian Broadcasting Network focusing on his growing faith and his efforts to stay sober. The profile suggested that Simmons had come to believe that homosexuality was wrong, but his brother Gary said that was not the case.

“At no time has he ever shied away from being who he was,” Gary Simmons said of his brother’s later life. “Those who knew Roy know where he stood. Roy was a gay black man who came out of the South.”

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