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    Roy Simmons, 57; came out as gay after leaving NFL

    At the time of his announcement, Mr. Simmons was the second former NFL player to declare he was homosexual.
    Kiichiro Sato/Associated Press/File 2006
    At the time of his announcement, Mr. Simmons was the second former NFL player to declare he was homosexual.

    NEW YORK — Roy Simmons — a former lineman for the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins and one of only a handful of NFL players to have said publicly that they were gay, all after their playing careers ended — died last Thursday in his apartment in the Bronx. He was 57.

    The cause was complications related to pneumonia, his brother Gary said. Mr. Simmons learned he had HIV in 1997 and had other health problems, his brother said.

    Mr. Simmons, a star at Georgia Tech, was drafted in the eighth round by the Giants in 1979 and played four years in the NFL, three for the Giants and one for the Redskins. At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, he was called Sugar Bear by his teammates since college.


    Coaches saw enormous potential but also warning signs in his raucous social life.

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    By his own account, Mr. 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 NFL, 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 Phil Donahue’s television talk show, “Donahue,” and with a former girlfriend and family members watching — Mr. Simmons made a stunning, awkward disclosure: He was gay. At the time, Mr. Simmons was the second former NFL player to declare that he was homosexual. Dave Kopay, a running back who played nine seasons, was the first, in 1975.

    At the 2014 NFL 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 Woolfork, a former teammate of Mr. Simmons’, said in a 2003 article in The New York Times about Mr. Simmons. “But if you’re gay, it’s like the military: Don’t ask, don’t tell.”


    Woolfork said he knew of four players who were gay when he played. Mr. Simmons was not one of them.

    “The NFL has a reputation,” Mr. Simmons said in the article. “It’s not even a verbal thing; it’s just known. You are gladiators; you are male; you kick butt.”

    Even after he acknowledged that he was gay, Mr. 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, Mr. 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 NFL Closet.”


    Roy Franklin Simmons was born in Savannah, Ga., one of six siblings by several fathers. A star at Beach High School, he received scholarship offers from several colleges before deciding on Georgia Tech.

    After the Giants drafted him, he brought several siblings to live with him in the New York area, cooking their meals before he headed to practice.

    Mr. 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.

    Mr. Simmons played one year in the US Football League before leaving professional football in 1985.

    He was in and out of drug treatment after leaving football. His brother said that he believed Mr. Simmons had received public assistance and financial help from the NFL, but that he struggled to get by and lived alone in the Bronx.

    In addition to his brother Gary, he leaves his daughter, Kara Jackson; a sister, Katherine; three other brothers, Larry, Ricky, and LaTawn; and a grandson.