Roy Simmons is in a very small fraternity and is certainly its most silent member—at least until recently.
Simmons is one of three former pro football players to reveal he's gay. He made the announcement in 1992 on The Phil Donahue Show after retiring from the National Football League ( NFL ) . ( David Kopay and Esera Tuaolo are former NFL players who have also come out of the closet. ) But Simmons' new book, Out of Bounds: Coming Out of Sexual Abuse, Addiction, and My Life of Lies in the NFL Closet, has positioned the spotlight back upon the former offensive lineman who played for the New York Giants and Washington Redskins from 1979-1984.
The glare on Simmons was even brighter in February when he accused the NFL of denying him a credential for the Super Bowl media center because he is gay and HIV-positive, an accusation the league vehemently denies.
Simmons and noted attorney Gloria Allred held a press conference outside NFL headquarters in New York City on Feb. 9, demanding an investigation. Simmons claims that he asked for a credential to the media center on Feb. 2, three days before Super Bowl XL in Detroit. He also asked for two tickets for the game, won by the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-10 over the Seattle Seahawks, and a party.
'I was once part of the inner circle; now I'm standing on the outside looking in,' said Simmons, who was also denied tickets to the game and the party.
The NFL issued a statement: 'It is impossible for all of these requests to be met, and there were many people, apart from Mr. Simmons, who were disappointed. The league said it annually is inundated with requests for last-minute credentials and tickets, and that they are handled by different representatives from the league.'
Allred said she wanted an investigation to determine whether Simmons' request was denied because he no longer fits the image of an NFL player or whether the NFL 'is inherently homophobic and prefers that a gay football player remain in the closet.'
Simmons played for Washington in Super Bowl XVIII, literally hours after a sex- and drug-filled evening.
That tale and more are described in detail in his book.
'The book is about diversity—sexual identity; race; alcohol and drug abuse; wild and crazy nights; and near-deadly times,' said Simmons, now 49. '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.
'I've had other people help me many times in my life, so I want to give back and help others. This book is a way for me to do that.'
The easy-to-read, yet often intense, book talks about the fact Simmons is HIV-positive and that he was raped by the postman when he was 11. He also tells of being in drug rehabilitation twice for drugs and alcohol. ( He has now been sober for two years. ) Simmons also once thought about jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge and has been homeless at times in the past.
'I hope my book can give individuals hope,' he said.
The book took Simmons about three years to finish, including details of his troubled relationship with his daughter. 'I have a lot of regrets in life, especially about my daughter. I wasn't there for her,' Simmons said. 'I basically ran away from responsibilities. Her mom, my ex-wife, well, I basically abandoned her when she was pregnant. I have regrets there too.'
Simmons now works as a supervisor at a Long Island ( N.Y. ) drug halfway house.
'I have to say that the positives outweigh the negatives in my life,' Simmons said. 'That said, parents need to be awake, because rape is something that's happening on a consistent basis.'
Simmons has gone to counseling sessions on and off since the incident. He has been a regular attendee over the past year. He also does regular speaking engagements and has been working to improve his relationship with his daughter.
Simmons was adamant that every detail of the book happened, bringing to mind author James Frey, whose personal memoirs were spotlighted and then blitzed by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey when he revealed that some details in his book were false. 'I wish it wasn't the case, that it didn't all happen, but it did,' Simmons said. 'That was my life; that's the life I lived.'
And Simmons, in fact, wants to share his story with Oprah.
'For me, looking back, I would say, 'How in the world did this person function?' It's a damn good thing I'm not in a mental institution today, or dead,' he said.
Simmons has a two-part message that he wants to preach to all who will listen: get tested for HIV and then be honest—to yourself, your family and any sex partners—about the results; and 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.
Simmons, who once lied to his grandmother about the rape, has had to relive the incident literally thousands of times—in sessions and in book-related interviews.
'I hope people can get past the profanity and, instead, look at the issues that the book brings out,' Simmons said.
Simmons said he misses the game-day excitement of the NFL, but still would not have come out while playing.
Will a pro from any of the four major sports ( football, basketball, baseball and hockey ) ever come out while active?
'No, unless it's a threatening situation, or he was the team superstar. The backlash would be too great,' Simmons said. 'But, I hope someone, somewhere would come out.'