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Book Review: Out of Bounds
2006-03-01

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Out of Bounds: Coming Out of Sexual Abuse, Addiction, and My Life of Lies in the NFL Closet, By Roy Simmons with Damon DiMarco in collaboration with David Fisher and Jimmy Hester

Carroll & Graf, Hardcover,$25

No matter how talented he might have been on the field, Roy Simmons will always be remembered as the second National Football League ( NFL ) football player to come out of the closet ( in 1992 ) and the first to disclose his HIV-positive status ( in 2003 ) . In Out of Bounds, his always-compelling—and frequently harrowing—autobiography, Simmons comes clean about the toll that living a lie and keeping too many secrets has taken on his life.

Those expecting a book full of game plays, football statistics and edited highlights will be in for a shock. While such elements inevitably are part of Out of Bounds, they take a back seat to the often lurid details of Simmons' many addictions and the consequences of his actions. He's not shy about describing his sexual exploits with men or some of the stuff he saw going on ( or participated in ) in gay bathhouses in the '70s and '80s. Nor does he hold back his language, using the 'S' word liberally and dropping 'F' bombs like a Nazi plane over London during the Blitz.

Simmons unflinchingly chronicles his descent into crack addiction, poverty, self-prostitution and criminal behavior, as well as his efforts at sobriety and his frequent relapses. It's brutally frank and sincere in expressing his sorrow for causing so much pain to his family, friends and lovers, and for squandering his talent at football. 'How on earth could I have thrown all that away for some bottles of liquor, a few one-night stands, and some goddamn brown dust that you have to buy in secret on street corners?' he laments.

He also relates how he grew up dirt poor in Savannah, Ga.—raised by his strict grandmother while his mother worked out of state to support her family. His father wasn't part of the family, but could usually be found in one of the local dives. When Simmons was 11, a neighbor's husband raped him and essentially got away with the crime because, back in 1967, such things were not discussed. He acknowledges that this 'was probably the beginning of my lifelong tendency to keep secrets,' such as his sexual orientation, his multiple sex partners of both genders and the extent of his addictions.

The chapters on Simmons' NFL days on the Giants and Redskins chronicle a never-ending series of parties, orgies, drug binges and worse. Although he played in Super Bowl XVIII, he and his teammates were so wasted from partying the night before, that 'we got our asses waxed.' Nor does he shy away from detailing some of his ex-teammates' excessive behavior. As he notes, ' [ i ] n the NFL, you can be a wife-beater, you can do drugs, get piss-ass drunk and wreck your car, sleep with as many groupies as you want behind your wife's back, and destroy private property whenever you went on a rampage ... . A man who played professional football could get away with pretty much anything, but never—under any circumstances whatsoever—could you announce that you were gay.' This homophobic double standard, among other issues, caused Simmons to take a year off from professional football, a move that may have saved his sanity, but essentially cost him his career.

Admittedly, a good deal of the fascination in reading Out of Bounds is of the same horrified, thank-God-it-wasn't-me variety that one gets while rubbernecking a multiple-vehicle accident or watching a sporting event gone wrong. After all, the book abounds with such incidents, starting with Simmons selling the contents of his apartment—and most of his roommate's possessions—to finance his latest crack binge! Indeed, while Simmons seems genuinely sincere in expressing his remorse for such heinous deeds, there's an odd, underlying sense of boastfulness about it all.

That being said, there is a foundation of hope and optimism deep beneath the strata of Simmons' tragic tale, as well as fierce condemnation of the homophobia that forms the bedrock of so much of American society and damages everyone to some degree. It allowed a neighbor to get away with raping a young man, and it caused this young man to grow into a damaged celebrity who was good at throwing a pigskin but even better at throwing his fortune away on crack and booze. Nor does Simmons comfort readers with the illusion of a happy ending, admitting that he could very easily relapse, but hoping that his revelations will keep temptation at bay or persuade others to seek treatment for their addictions.


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