It’s been 15 years since basketball superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr. became the first pro athlete to acknowledge that he had HIV. But despite activists’ hopes, the announcement hasn’t exactly spurred a blitz of sports disclosures. Indeed, in October 2005, it was police who disclosed the status of Trevis Smith, an HIV positive American playing for a Canadian football team—charging him with sexual assault for an alleged unprotected encounter with a woman. All of which makes Roy Simmons, 49, the only living football player to come out as HIV positive, an expert commentator.
An offensive lineman with the New York Giants (1979–82) and the Washington Redskins (1983–84), Simmons’ struggles to hide his bisexuality sacked his career. He came out as gay in 1992 and tested positive in 1997. “A lot of people can’t deal with my status,” Simmons tells POZ. “They still want to know me as Sugar Bear [his nickname].” He tells all in a new memoir, Out of Bounds: My Life In and Out of the NFL Closet ($25, Carroll & Graf), which gives a play-by-play of his childhood sexual abuse, his drug addiction and the loss of a promising athletic career.
Despite federal employment protections, Simmons doesn’t think other players will disclose anytime soon. “We’re dealing with peoples’ lives and money,”
Simmons says. “Who would dare?” A 1992 NFL study determined the risk of on-field transmission to be one in 85 million. “Treatment of the HIV-infected should remain between players and physicians,” says the NFL’s HIV and drug abuse adviser, Lawrence Brown,MD. For his part, Simmons would rather see stricter field safety requirements than a mandatory disclosure policy.
How will he spend Super Bowl Sunday? Sticking to his vegetarian diet and “just staying clean.”