Roy Simmons, ex-NY Giant who came out as gay and HIV positive, dies at 57

Simmons, who had recently been hospitalized with pneumonia, went out of his way during his NFL career to hide his homosexuality, all the while frequenting New York City's gay bathhouses and paying for sex with male hookers. He ended up a homeless prostitute in San Francisco, earning $15 a trick, and continued to be conflicted with his homosexuality later on in life.

Roy Simmons, the fun-loving Giants offensive lineman who later became the second former player in NFL history to come out as gay, died in his New York home last week at 57.

Simmons, the only player in NFL history to acknowledge that he was HIV positive, was known as "Sugar Bear" because of his big smile and sweet personality. But the former Giants offensive lineman was also tortured by his sexuality and struggled for years with substance abuse.

When his NFL career ended, he was a homeless prostitute in San Francisco for a time, earning $15 a trick.

"All the guys in the locker room loved him," Giants star Harry Carson, Simmons teammate, told the Daily News Monday. "He had a very gentle demeanor. He was all about having fun, laughing and smiling and doing his job."

A friend found Simmons' body in a chair in his rented room in the Bronx on Thursday, James Hester told the Daily News Monday. A spokeswoman for the city's Office of Chief Medical Examiner said the cause of death had not been determined, but Hester, Simmons' longtime friend, said Simmons had been hospitalized in November and December with pneumonia.

Simmons told the Daily News in 2006 that he had battled demons ever since a neighbor in his hometown of Savannah, Ga., raped him when he was 11 years old.

The Giants drafted Simmons in 1979, but he told the News in 2006 that he was a regular at wild sex and dope parties thrown by what he called the team's drug clique, and his play rapidly declined.

Coach Bill Parcells cut him in 1983; he spent a season with Washington before he retired from the league.

Simmons said he went out of his way during his NFL career to hide his homosexuality. He juggled affairs with women and had a daughter with one girlfriend, but he was also a regular at the city's gay bathhouses and frequented male hookers as well.

Simmons felt he had no choice except to hide in the closet: "In the NFL," Simmons said in 2006, "there is nothing worse than being gay. You can beat your wife, but you better not be gay."

Carson said some teammates suspected that Simmons was gay - and that it didn't matter. "We would have accepted him," Carson said. "Nothing would have happened to him."

Simmons became more open with his sexuality after he left football; he became a drag queen - with size 16 shoes - and loved to strut up and down the streets of San Francisco.

He publicly came out of the closet in 1992, on the nationally syndicated "Donahue" show. He was the second former NFL player to publicly declare his homosexuality. David Kopay, a running back who played with five NFL teams from 1964 to 1972, announced that he was gay in 1975,

For Simmons, the experience did not appear to be liberating and he continued to be conflicted. In 2005, Simmons appeared on TV evangelist Pat Robertson's show and said that homosexuality is against God's will.

But Hester, an author who helped Simmons get help for his addiction and health issues, said Simmons was glad to see locker rooms become increasingly tolerant. He would have cheered the Nets' Jason Collins, who became the first openly gay athlete to play a major American sport on Sunday, and Michael Sam, the Missouri defensive end who recently came out and is expected to be drafted by an NFL team later this year.

"Roy would be happy that Michael Sam could have his lover in the stands or at team parties," Hester said.

Simmons is survived by his daughter, Kara Jackson; his grandson, Xavier; and five siblings.

Hester said Simmons' family is struggling to raise money to ship his body to Savannah.