Former professional football player Roy Simmons officially "came out" to millions on a television talk show. One day in 1992, almost seven years after his retirement from the NFL, he appeared on Donahue with a former girlfriend to discuss his secret lifestyle. At the time, he was only the second NFL player to come out post-retirement. (Dave Kopay came out in '75, and later, Esera Tuaolo in 2002.) A decade later, Simmons revealed that he was HIV-positive, a first for a pro NFL player. Recently, Roy Simmons has admitted that it was an addiction to cocaine that cost him his pro-football career. That addiction took him from playing ball in Superbowl XVIII ... to turning tricks on the streets of San Francisco for crack cocaine.
The humbling story of Roy Simmons is now fully explained in an eagerly anticipated new autobiography, Out of Bounds. The book just rolled off the presses last week and we just received our review copy over the weekend. At only 276 pages, it's a compelling, easy read. The January issue of Out excerpts several juicy passages, including Simmons' descriptions of his sexy locker room mates from the Giants and Redskins, including the one whom he shared some sexin'. Those passages are uploaded here and here. Simmons recounts the one time that he had sex with a team mate at the Giants (also on the offensive line) and speculates about other players that set off his gaydar, including two players whom he thought were a couple. "They were too buddy-buddy to be a heterosexual friendship. They waited for each other to come out of the shower in the locker room, waited for each other to come out of practice ... they were insepearable."
Even though many of us have had our own pro-football player fantasies, Simmons bio does not read like a dream come true. It's a graphic description of a young life that was shaped by neglect and sexual abuse and cut short by a constant flirtation with danger. At eleven years old, a neighbor raped him; Simmons later returned to his abuser and accepted cash for these sessions. His freshman year at Georgia Tech, Roy began frequenting sex clubs near campus. Although the thrill of discovery ran high, "I have to admit that I was excited. Excited and very, very curious."
Simmons was drafted by the Giants in 1979. New York's sexual underground of the 1970s and 80s was a perfect environment to mature his edgy appetite for sex and drugs. Some of the places mentioned are the lore of cultural anthropology; Plato's Retreat, Badlands, the Everard. The offensive lineman lead a classic double life; squiring women during the day, seeking sex with men late at night. All the while, no one was the wiser. "It's easy for a gay person to hide out in the open when everyone else in the world is convinced you're straight."
After just a few seasons, Simmons was later cut by the Giants. The pinnacle of his NFL career was Super Bowl XVIII in 1984. He was playing for the Redskins when they faced the Raiders. By that time, Roy Simmons was a train wreck. Maureen Orth of The New York Times describes that day:
Among the posse of some 20 family members and friends he had invited to Tampa to watch him play in the 1984 Super Bowl were his three current lovers—two women and one man. They were all staying at the same hotel, and each required attention that even Mr. Simmons, a 290-pound offensive lineman for the Washington Redskins known for his speed, found exhausting. To keep his furtive gay life a secret, he had cultivated a reputation for being the life of the party. He constantly juggled deception and compartmentalization, while placating those of both sexes closest to him.
"But what she didn't add was being the life of the party always comes at a heavy price," Simmons writes. "I didn't pay that tab. My friends and family did. You have to read between the lines." Post Super Bowl, Simmons story becomes even more desperate; he throws his career away for drugs, fathers a daughter that he never really knows, escapes to San Francisco to trick on the streets, attempts suicide, fails rehab several times ... the story reads more like the bio of a former circuit boy or porn star than a promising sports hero. Particularly sad is the fact that Simmons doesn't even have his Super Bowl ring; a trick stole it just days after it was presented to him.
Roy Simmons isolation was compounded by the additional stigma of homosexuality among blacks; its even more depressing for gay black athletes. "Almost all of them suffered through tragedy or controversy," noted Keith Boykin when he essayed the sad plight of many gay black athletes who came out of the closet. The hyper-masculine atmosphere of black team sports almost prevents an open discussion of sexuality. "You're black, you're an athlete, you're a Man with a capital M, and this is what you do," says Randy Boyd, a black gay columnist at Outsports and author of the new Walt Loves the Bearcat. Keith's essay was a fascinating homework assignment; he backgrounds the cases of British soccer star Justin Fashanu, pro bodybuilder Chris Dickerson and Olympic track athlete Derrick Peterson, none of which have had happy endings. So far, the reaction to Sheryl Swoopes' disclosure has been muted and its too early to tell what her admission may cost.
Nowadays, it's quite fashionable among many gays to suggest that "coming out" is a magic elixir for many of the problems that Roy Simmons suffered. Given the raging homophobia in pro team sports—especially among black players in the NFL and NBA—and the tragic track record of many gay black athletes who have come out of the closet, there would have been no incentive for him or players in similar predicaments to be honest. But that doesn't mean his is not an important story; on the contrary, it's vital to our community and should be required reading. Out of Bounds is a wonderful autobiography because in the spirit of recovery, its about progress and not perfection. Its searing honesty reminds us that life isn't always picture-perfect ... especially for those whom we idolize.
An editorial note: Out of Bounds was co-written with Damon Dimarco and the editor is Don Wiese at Carroll & Graf. Don was recently named to the Out 100 for his work bringing lgbt concerns to print.Out of Bounds (Amazon) Fast Times, Wild Nights Parts 1 and 2 (Out) Out of the Locker Room and the Closet (NYT) Black Gay Athletes (Keith Boykin) Tired of Having to Pretend (Rod 2.0)