Roy Simmons, Redskins player who came out as gay, dies at 57


Roy Simmons, a former pro football lineman who played in the 1984 Super Bowl for the Washington Redskins, later became the second NFL player to announce that he was gay. (2006 PHOTO BY KIICHIRO SATO/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
February 25

Roy Simmons, a former pro football lineman who played in the 1984 Super Bowl for the Washington Redskins and who later became the second NFL player to announce that he was gay, died Feb. 20 at his home in the Bronx. He was 57.

He had been hospitalized in recent months for pneumonia, said a friend, James Hester, who was a co-author of Mr. Simmons’s autobiography. Mr. Simmons revealed in 1997 that he was HIV-positive.

Mr. Simmons entered the NFL in 1979 as a starting offensive guard with the New York Giants. His coach at the time, Ray Perkins, said he “just might be the best athlete on this football team.”

By his own admission, Mr. Simmons fell into a habit of heavy drinking, drug use and sexual promiscuity with both men and women.

“People were always throwing things at me,” he told the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch in 2006. “Women threw themselves at me. When I went to a bar, I got complimentary drinks. When I went to the store, I got discounts. All kinds of individuals offered me drugs.”

His performance on the football field declined and, after sitting out one year, he joined the Redskins as a backup lineman in 1983. Under coach Joe Gibbs, the team went 14-2 and met the Los Angeles Raiders in the Super Bowl, losing 38-9.

The Super Bowl would be Mr. Simmons’s final game in the NFL. The Redskins released him before the 1984 season.

In his 2006 autobiography, “Out of Bounds,” Mr. Simmons described life in the NFL as a never-ending orgy of hedonism. He said he and other members of the Redskins often free-based cocaine together, and he admitted to using cocaine the night before the Super Bowl.

After one year in the USFL, a short-lived pro football league, Mr. Simmons’s playing career was over. He moved to San Francisco, where he was often homeless and sometimes made money as a prostitute. He dressed in drag and said he once knifed a man during a back-alley drug deal.

Tired of concealing his sexuality, Mr. Simmons appeared on Phil Donahue’s syndicated talk show in 1992 and said he was gay. At the time, only one other NFL player — Dave Kopay, who had played with the Redskins and other teams — had come out as gay.

“In the NFL, there is nothing worse than being gay,” Mr. Simmons told the New York Daily News in 2006. “You can beat your wife, but you better not be gay.”

He said he almost jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge in 1993 but stepped back when he remembered the words of his grandmother, who had raised him in Georgia.

“My grandmother always said suicide is a sin,” he told the Boston Globe in 2006. “That’s what stopped me.”

Roy Franklin Simmons was born Nov. 8, 1956, in Savannah, Ga. As a child, he was raped by a respected male neighbor, he later said, and was haunted by it the rest of his life.

He played football at Georgia Tech and was an eighth-round draft pick of the Giants in 1979. In college and the NFL, Mr. Simmons had numerous girlfriends while having affairs with men on the side.

He went through drug rehabilitation several times and in 2005 appeared on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, saying he had found religious enlightenment and condemning what he said were his former ways.

Mr. Simmons occasionally worked in a drug treatment center and gave speeches, but he spent his final years at the edge of poverty.

Survivors include a daughter from a relationship, Kara Jackson of Atlanta; four brothers; a sister; and a grandson.

In January, a documentary about Jerry Smith, a star Redskins receiver of the 1960s and 1970s, was released by NFL Films. Smith died of AIDS in 1986 but never publicly revealed he was gay. Within the past month, a pro football prospect, Michael Sam, has declared he is gay, and basketball player Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in a major American professional sport, signed a contract with the Brooklyn Nets.

Mr. Simmons said he offered to speak to NFL players about gender identity issues, but he said the league was not interested.

“I know I can help stop someone from going through what I went through,” he said in 2006. “I’ve been there. I’ve had two jobs in my life — football and running. Mostly running.”

Matt Schudel has been an obituary writer at The Washington Post since 2004.
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