Roy Simmons, 57, Lineman Who Later Came Out as Gay, Dies
Roy Simmons, a former offensive lineman for the Giants and the Washington Redskins and one of only a handful of N.F.L. players to have said publicly that they were gay — all after their playing careers ended — died Thursday in his apartment in the Bronx. He was 57.
The cause was complications related to pneumonia, his brother Gary said. Simmons learned he had H.I.V. in 1997 and had other health problems, his brother said.
Simmons, a star at Georgia Tech, was drafted in the eighth round by the Giants in 1979 and played four years in the N.F.L., three for the Giants and one for the Redskins. At 6 feet 3 inches and 260 pounds, he had been called Sugar Bear by his teammates since college.
Coaches saw enormous potential, but also warning signs in his raucous social life.
By his own account, Simmons abused his opportunity in the pros, falling quickly into heavy alcohol and drug use. The night before he played with the Redskins in the 1984 Super Bowl, his last game in the N.F.L., he snorted cocaine. In the stands that Sunday, he said, were friends he had invited, including three lovers — two female, one male. Somehow, he continued to keep his complicated sexuality a secret.
Years later, in 1992, appearing on “Donahue,” Phil Donahue’s television talk show, and with a former girlfriend and family members watching, Simmons made a stunning, awkward disclosure: He was gay. At the time, Simmons was the second former N.F.L. player to declare that he was homosexual. Dave Kopay, a running back who played nine seasons, was the first, in 1975.
At the 2014 N.F.L. draft in May, Michael Sam, a defensive end from Missouri, is expected to be the first openly gay player drafted. Thirty years ago, things were different.
“You can be a wife beater, do drugs, get in a car wreck and the team will take care of you,” Butch Woolfolk, a former running back who played with Simmons on the Giants in 1982 before Simmons left the team, said in a 2003 article in The New York Times about Simmons. “But if you’re gay, it’s like the military: Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Woolfolk said he knew of four players who were gay when he played. Simmons was not one of them.
“The N.F.L. has a reputation,” Simmons said in the article, “and it’s not even a verbal thing — it’s just known. You are gladiators; you are male; you kick butt.”
Even after he acknowledged he was gay, Simmons concealed aspects of his troubled childhood for many years. In the 2003 article, he said he had been sexually assaulted as a boy by a man he did not know well, a devastating event that caused him trauma and confusion and was not spoken about within his family.
“I think all my life it affected me,” he said. “The acting out — the sex with the boys, the girls — the drinking.”
In 2006, Simmons, collaborating with Damon DiMarco, David Fisher and James Hester, wrote a memoir, “Out of Bounds: Coming Out of Sexual Abuse, Addiction and My Life of Lies in the N.F.L. Closet.”
Roy Franklin Simmons was born on Nov. 8, 1956, in Savannah, Ga., one of six siblings by several fathers. A star at Beach High School, he received scholarship offers from multiple colleges before deciding on Georgia Tech.
After the Giants drafted him, he brought several of his siblings to live with him in the New York metropolitan area, sometimes cooking their meals before he headed to practice.
Simmons lost his starting job with the Giants during the 1981 season and left the team by choice before the 1982 season. After working as a baggage handler at Kennedy Airport, he tried to return to the Giants in 1983 but did not make the team.
The Redskins picked him up, and he played in the Super Bowl, which the Redskins lost to the Los Angeles Raiders, 38-9, in Tampa, Fla.
Simmons played one year in the United States Football League before leaving football in 1985.
He was in and out of drug treatment after leaving football. His brother said he believed that Simmons had received public assistance and financial help from the N.F.L., but that he struggled to get by and lived alone in the Bronx. Simmons sometimes volunteered at polling precincts in the Bronx on Election Days, his brother said.
In addition to his brother Gary, his survivors include his daughter, Kara Jackson; a sister, Katherine; three other brothers, Larry, Ricky and LaTawn; and a grandson. His mother, Norma, died several years ago.
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.”