Roy Simmons, the second-ever NFL player to come out as gay after his retirement, died on Feb. 20 in his Bronx apartment at the age of 57. He died from complications related to pneumonia, his brother told the New York Times.
Simmons was drafted as an offensive lineman for the New York Giants in 1979, and played for them for three seasons, followed by one with the Washington Redskins. He played the last game of his career with the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII. Simmons came out in 1992 on the "Phil Donohue Show," becoming the second former player in the NFL's history to do so. (The first, Dave Kopay, came out of the closet in 1975).
Simmons also became the first and only former NFL player to come out as HIV-positive in 2003, after living privately with the diagnosis for 6 years. He also revealed in 2003 that he had been raped by a neighbor when he was 11 years old.
He had felt pressured to keep his sexuality a secret during his years in the NFL. "In the NFL, there is nothing worse than being gay," Simmons told the New York Daily News in 2006. "You can beat your wife, but you better not be gay."
In his 2006 autobiography, Out Of Bounds, Simmons described his tortured relationship with his sexuality, and his struggles with drugs and alcohol.
Simmons continued to wrestle with his sexuality long after leaving the NFL. He said that he almost committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in 1993, but stopped short, thinking of the way that his grandmother said suicide was a sin.
In 2005, Simmons appeared on televangelist Pat Robertson's show to renounce homosexuality. He recounted how he had become close with a pastor who steered him away from the gay "lifestyle."
"We spoke on and learned about homosexuality and the connotations and everything that go along with it. It's really against God’s will," he said at the time.
Simmons was born on Nov. 8, 1956 in Savannah, Georgia. He is survived by his daughter, Kara Jackson, four brothers, Gary, Larry, Ricky, and LaTawn, his sister, Katherine, and a grandson, according to the Times.
“The rape and being closeted in the NFL really killed him,” longtime friend James Hester told The New York Post. “On top of that, drugs played a big role in his life. But when you’re a pioneer there’s no one else to follow. You’re out there on your own. No one stood up for him. He was smart, funny, polite and college educated. But he never really got the chance to feel worthy.”