Former pro football player, gay and positive, tells gay men to stay safe
With that in mind, former NFL football player Roy Simmons, the HIV-positive, openly gay athlete who played in the Super Bowl for the Washington Redskins and as an offensive lineman for the New York Giants, reached out with a message to keep youth healthy. Simmons was diagnosed with HIV in 1997, and was the feature of a New York Times profile about being gay and positive on Nov. 30, 2003.
WINNIE MCCROY: The world of professional sports is one of the most difficult places to be HIV-positive, and even more so, to be openly gay. Dave Kopay, the former University of Washington running back who came out in 1976, and Esera Tuaolo are the only other former pro-ball players to do so. You were with the Giants from ’79-’83, and came out in 1992 on “The Phil Donahue Show.” What were some of your most difficult experiences relating to that?
ROY SIMMONS: I got a lot of questions from ex-teammates, and received a lot of calls from players who I’d gone through college with. Former teammates, they were startled, and some just couldn’t accept it. They would say, “It ain’t so. Maybe you just went out last night and had too many cocktails and were experimenting…”
WM: Was there support where you thought there would be none, or were you abandoned by those you thought would be there for you?
RS: They didn’t abandon me, they just took longer to digest it. Even today, it’s not that I changed my attitude, except that being knowledgeable is my main difference now. But I am basically the same person now as I was then. If they were my friends then, they’re my friends now.
WM: Did your action inspire any other players to come out as gay or positive, even privately to you?
RS: I think at times that happened with different people. It takes a lot of fortitude and trust beyond trust to come forward with that. Sometimes there was something that wasn’t said, but I could feel they wanted to say something, but they can’t. And I can’t say it for them, so I have to say I understand with knowing unknowing.
WM: Part of your struggle with being HIV-positive has been keeping healthy. You are on a plan now that seems to be working well. Tell us a little about that.
RS: I thank Doctor Roni; she has a clinic in Martha’s Vineyard, and Jimmy [Hester, his best friend who accompanied him at the interview]. God bless them for blessing me. Especially Jimmy, for inviting me to Martha’s Vineyard to help me. When I went there, I went through a 21-day detox, unknowing if I had the willpower and personal fortitude to go forward. But you just have to let go, and let God take charge. I’m three years sober in June.
There’s also a special diet, with a supplement composed of meta greens. It’s all about going to the store, purchasing green veggies, and juicing is a major factor—it goes right into the system. You have to watch your diet, your intake of food. I’m vegetarian. Maybe I have the occasional salmon or chicken. It’s about reducing your stress level, training, cardiovascular, walking, aerobics, step classes… and a lot of sleep and lots of water.
WM: If a college or pro-ball player was considering coming out as either gay or positive, how would you advise them to go about it?
RS: I think when it’s of a magnitude like that, I would rather the person e-mail me for advice. It’s a very personal issue, very delicate, because if one does that, it’s a life-changing experience. It’s not easy. If you put yourself on the forefront on anything you want to stand for, you are putting yourself out there, and there’s no telling what’s going to happen.
WM: You’re touring around to help educate on being healthy and HIV-positive. You will also make an appearance at AIDSWalk New York. When can people catch you there?
RS: I’ll be participating in the AIDSWalk on Sunday morning, starting with a breakfast at Tavern on the Green, where I’ll get to know some of the organizations. Then prior to the Walk, they’ll have a ceremony, and I am going to encourage people to get tested, be honest, and be on it. We’re going from city to city to educate people.
WM: What’s the message you are trying to get across?
RS: I think one of the main things is to get tested. If you have any uncertainty, get tested anyway. It won’t hurt. Use condoms, wrap it up, and be honest to your significant other, to your wife, to someone else you met in your life that could be affected. Basically, concentrate on yourself, be honest with what it involves, and shout it out.
AIDSWalk New York begins at 9 a.m. on Sunday, May 16. Register in Central Park at 59th St. and Fifth Ave. For complete info, visit www.aidswalk.net/newyork, or call 212 807 WALK. For more information about Roy Simmons, including an e-mail link, visit sugarbear.info.