One day a person is going to see your name somewhere on some piece of paper. When they inquire about you, what are they going to find out? Life is the same for all of us. We live, and we die. What makes us different is how we live it. Throughout my years as a football player at the University of Nebraska and my time in the USFL and NFL, I made decisions that were not in my best interest. While battling demons and opposition that are common to us all, I made mistakes that could have taken me out. However, here I am, still living and still loving. With that love, it is my hope that by sharing my story, I can help someone see a light of perseverance and forgiveness in areas where darkness is present. I want to help somebody live life to the fullest. Or, as I say, live life like another day in paradise.
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The 1st quarter of my life was not the usual beginning many people experience. Often, I wish I could go back to my birth and talk to my biological mother and father. I have so many questions. Questions that I will never have answers to, but nonetheless, I still had to offer a dose of forgiveness for what they did. One of the most important questions would be "why did you not want me."
This question was the bane of my existence for many years. I mean, why would a child, a baby, be forced to deal with rejection so soon? I can guarantee that none of us asked to be born. We do not get to choose our parents or the circumstances we are born into. Likewise, you cannot avoid addressing the emotional, physical, and mental impact of those early decisions on your life, for which you played no part in, as you try to find your way in this world.
The bitterness that one might gather from being given up at birth would stifle anybody's hope for a positive future. Although I don't have any memory of my adoption, I was blessed to be adopted by two loving people who would curve my unfortunate introduction into this world with their love. Their dedication to me is partly responsible for my ability to forgive my biological parents for abandoning me.
Although life for me began with rejection, I thank God, I was too young to understand it, right away. The good thing is the two people who adopted me would help give me an identity to foster my journey in a positive direction versus the negative course I was placed in at birth.
My birth certificate states I was born in Tyler, Texas, on January 29, 1961 at 1:29 am. I do not know anything other than my biological parents did not want me and a biological grandmother did not want me, because she was moving to California. According to my birth certificate, on February 2, 1961, I was adopted by Clyde and Bertha Simmons of Greenville, Texas. I do not remember too much about my early years, like birthdays or holidays. However, I do know since I was given up at birth for adoption, my adopted parents had the duty of naming me. They chose the name Ricky Clyde Simmons.
I was raised in a small town called Greenville, Texas. Greenville was known as one of the most racist cities in the world. You will find Greenville located in North Texas, 45 minutes Northeast of Dallas. When you entered the town on the main strip, you were greeted by a huge sign that stretched the width of the street. It so eloquently read:
Yeah, so much for not believing me, when I said it was the most racist city in the world. The Caucasian, I mean the white people in the town would like to perform a Jedi Mind trick on you to make you believe that the sign was not racially motivated by giving you the following speech, which must be read in a Grand Ole Opera voice:
"Our sign is not racist. Our land is known for black soil that is good fo pickin' cotton! And the white refers to the pure color of the cotton and it being nothing, but good!"
The average person would not buy that explanation. Although, the black land part was accurate due to the soil in the region being so dark, which allowed it to be fertile for cotton and other botanical dwellers.
In the early 1900's, Greenville was home to some of the biggest cotton farming plantations in history. The slogan was created by one of those land owners by the name of Will Harrison. He came up with the slogan, put it on business cards, and passed them out all over the place, including Washington D.C. as a member of the "Greenville Booster Club." President Woodrow Wilson was quite fond of that slogan as legend would have it. In the 1960's, right around the time of my birth and relocation to Greenville, the sign was taken down for alleged "repairs." Only never to rise into the sky, again. Though the sign had come down, the ideology of the white people who lived in Greenville, believing themselves to be superior, had not changed. NOPE! They were still racist!
To this day, I do not know how my parents did it. They raised me in an area where we were not welcomed. My childhood was as close to perfect as it gets in the South. We lived well even though I was raised in a city that was blatantly and honestly racist without care. This showed me that my parents did an even more impeccable job of protecting me as well as teaching me that I was important even in the midst of a demoralizing hometown ideology.
Not only did my parents shield me from the hatred in our town, they also made sure I never wanted for anything as a child. The word "spoiled" would be an understatement. I can only remember being happy all the time. Life was truly great with no problems at all from my perspective. I went from not being wanted to being adored by my new parents. My parents were both school teachers and well respected by everyone in the community, which helped provide a stable two-parent home.
My father's name was Clyde Simmons also known as (aka) "BIG MAN." He was born and raised in Greenville, Texas. He was a Sargent in the Army and served in World War II. I really do not know much about his upbringing or childhood. I do know who his father was. His name was Will Simmons and he was a retired railroad worker, who passed away when I was very young. What I can tell you about my father is he was a man of many abilities. My dad played football for Texas College in Tyler, Texas. He graduated and received his Master's degree, as well. It is no doubt in my mind that his intelligence is what allowed him to be a very successful man. He taught school for 30 years as well as served as a principal. In addition to being a teacher, he was a great entrepreneur. He owned a pool hall, a cafe, ten rental properties, and an independent car service, where he owned two 20-passenger vans. One he operated and the other his employee took in order to provide transportation to and from Dallas, Texas for the people in his community. Basically, my dad ran his companies from 5am-6pm and then headed to the pool hall and stayed until close to midnight. He made it home just in time to sleep for a few hours, wake up, and start all over again. That is where I get my work ethic. It makes perfect sense that my father was a great man to model my life after. My dad employed several people from our community. My dad gave me my first job when I was in elementary school. I was hired to go from pool table to pool table, collect the quarters, and rack the pool balls. I worked from 6pm until 10pm every day, walking around the pool hall with a money sack strapped to my waste and a metal milk crate that I used to stand on in order to reach the table to rack the pool balls. Sometimes, as I walked pass some of the tables, I would hear some of the guys, who were mostly criminals and hustlers, I might add, make comments like, "We should rob that kid with the money sack!" But, there was always someone there that knew who my dad was and would kindly correct the person. I would hear, "Man is you crazy! That is Clyde's son! He would kill us if we touched him!" To be honest, my dad was the least of their problems, because I kind of had my own bodyguard. We called him "Iron Man."
He was a huge man built like the "Incredible Hulk." He was responsible for keeping his eyes on me when I went around to collect the money from the tables, while my dad was next door running the cafe. Everybody knew my dad was very protective and very tough. He had to be tough! I vividly can remember plenty of times at the pool hall when a group of miscreants who frequented his establishment would start up trouble and fights would break out. It was normal for "Iron Man" to snatch me up and put me under a table when people started fighting inside the pool hall. Also, after hours, there was always trouble outside in the parking lot, but my dad had some rough people working for him as security and they did not play at all. Sometimes, those fights that broke out in the pool hall would spill out into the parking lot. It was common for a shootout or stabbing to take place out there. However, my dad's goons were always able to restore order without getting the police involved. My dad exuded what it was like to be a protective man's man and how to conduct yourself with dignity and pride in the midst of riff raff. I guess that is why he was so loved and respected in the community.
My mother which held the position of backbone in our family was Bertha Marie Simmons, born and raised in Marshall, Texas. I do not know much about my mother's upbringing or childhood, either. My mother went to Bishop College where she was a cheerleader. After graduating, she would go on to receive her Master's Degree from Prairie View A&M. Also, she was a school teacher for 30 years. My mother taught school in Caddo Mills, Texas, which was a small town 10 miles west of our hometown, Greenville.
I was told that my mother and father met in a very unusual and hilarious way. The story took place at one of my father's games, where they were playing my mother's college. My dad was tackled on one play out of bounds right in front of the Bishop College cheerleaders. My mother saw my dad lying on the ground and instead of helping him up, she pushed her small little foot into his chest and told him, "you are going to lose tonight!" Call it love at first step, but after that game they would forever be together until the end. They would go on to stay married for 50 years!
Although the beginning of the 1st quarter of my life started out rough, I can say that having those two people as my parents would give me the fuel to procure forgiveness for my biological parents. The love my two adoptive parents gave me would be instrumental in my life in more ways than one.
Midway through the 1st quarter of my life, we can see that the misfortune that bestowed itself upon my existence was something that could ruin my life before it started. Thank God that was not the case. Many kids given up for adoption find themselves going from foster home to foster home and moving from school to school. Thanks to my adoptive parents, my upbringing was blessed with love and care.
As a young rapscallion, I attended Caddo Mills Elementary school from first through the eighth grade. My mom was the only black teacher and I was in the first class of integrated students at Caddo. This was another time where I was forced to deal with a negative position I was placed in through no fault of my own.
Being black in the south was interesting. At the time, Caddo Mills' population was around 710 people. Besides my mom making advancement for black teachers and me being a part of the first integrated class, my dad was facing racial tensions, as well. This was still the 1960's in Texas and that damn racist ass sign had just been taken down! There is not a brush big enough to paint on a canvass the issues going on in the world or in Texas during that time. Everything was so divided. The part of the slogan that said the "whitest people" was very true. They kept to themselves and we kept to ourselves. My dad's pool hall and cafe was the place where only black people congregated. The only white people who came to our community were cops and I'm positive they only came to keep us away from the "whitest people!"
Regardless of what was going on in the world, my parents made sure education was a priority in my life. Kindergarten through 8th grade was what I considered a breeze, because my mother was on the top of her game when it came to me and my school work. She was very strict. I could not go outside and play until my homework was done and double-checked by her. Having parents who were both educators had its advantages. I was a straight "A" student throughout my years in elementary school. However, I have to be honest and say I felt superior to most students my age due to both my parents being teachers and considering what we as children believed was smart. Truly, I felt I was smarter than kids my age. Soon that confidence would cause me to think, somehow, I was smarter than my parents. Although they were loving parents and strict with their love, this confidence somehow made me feel like I was able to run my life on my own.
I believe that my adoption was not discussed, because my parents loved me unconditionally. But, in the back of their minds, they had to be somewhat more lenient when it came to me, because of the unmerited pain I had to go through being discarded by my birth parents. During my challenging times, they raised me in such a positive environment, dealing with all of the issues I had as an adopted child.
Once a dose of testosterone has entered their lives, all pubescent male children go through a stage of rebellion against authority figures. As I grew into a young man, I am sure my dad knew that at some point I would need physical discipline to help me deal with the flood of testosterone to my body. Given that my dad was such a great athlete, he used what he knew best. He approached me when I was in 5th grade and made a deal with me. He said "Son, if you play football for me, I will make sure you have every little thing you desire!" Of course, the desires of a 5th grader are more along the lines of toys, bicycles, and candy, which were not bank breakers!
Besides using my dad's offer to negotiate a new bicycle, I discovered one extra benefit about football and that is by 8th grade when the proverbial veil was removed from my child-like eyes about girls, I learned they dig guys who play football! Yahtzee! This new-found energy and independence really excited my already self-aggrandized ideology that I was smarter than my parents and therefore able to run my life. I had unlimited access to all the things a kid wanted in addition to more responsibility than older teenagers. This had its pluses and minuses. However, it would be the beginning of what would eventually ruin my life.
Pulling from that theory that I could run my life the way I saw fit, I decided to do adult things one day at lunch during my 8th grade year of school. It all went down when I was walking through the school yard and I saw the star running back for Caddo Mills High School just hanging out by himself. Since I idolized him, I went over to see what he was doing. I saw him smoking what looked like a cigarette. It happened to be weed. He asked me if I wanted to try it. Since he was my idol, I couldn't say no. So, I said "yes" without a second thought. That opened a door to a dark hallway I walked right through in a very adult way. At the time, I did not understand the ramifications that would come from this small decision. But, you will soon see what this one event instigated in my life.
In 9th grade, I transferred to GISD, a Greenville set of schools. Since I was in high school, I was away from my mother's watchful eyes, but not far from all the good things they instilled in me. I still had to bring my homework home to be checked by her as well as get all of my report cards signed. Even though I was still pursuing this dark adult hallway, not being around my mom at school did not deter me from being a good student. Despite engaging in adult extracurricular activities, I was still able to maintain a B+ grade point average. I already mentioned how my dad was a very intimidating figure. He had a scowl that would make the toughest man rethink his behavior. That alone gave me the motivation to pass every class I took and keep my weed smoking to myself. Though I looked like the model student and athlete, I was still very much so investigating the darker side of my pain. However, I did not know it was pain. I guess all the good my parents did for me did not address the pain related to my lack of unforgiveness around being given up for adoption. My superior intelligence and emotional exposure made for a very adult 9th grader.
I have to say, in a football game, every quarter has a play that can change the direction and energy of the game. When I tried weed for the first time, it was the game changing play in the 1st quarter of my life that would affect the game for real.
Smoking weed made me feel like an adult. So, I started running with my own clique of guys away from home. There was Bennie Barrett aka (Frag), Cedric Mack aka (Maaack), Melvin Gilstrap aka (Strap City Dogg), Tommy Wilson aka (Clint), Mike Buchanon aka (Big Buck), and Danny Allen aka (Danny Boy) or (Rotten) (because he never took baths.) Bennie lived right behind me and our backyards were only separated by a fence. Cedric, Melvin, and Tommy aka Clint lived only a couple of blocks away. Big Buck and Rotten lived in West Garden, which was called "the projects." All of my friends are like brothers to this very day. Growing up in Greenville, we did everything together - played sandlot football, basketball, track, and baseball. So, whatever season was going on, that's what we played. We used to ask Danny Allen "aka" Rotten, "why he wouldn't take a bath," and he would proudly say, "water is for the Ducks."
I digress, but having friends, great parents, sports, and all the tangible things I could desire would allow anyone to say life was pretty good. Although we lived in a good neighborhood, I liked to spend most of my time over at Big Buck and Rotten's apartments. Since they lived in the projects, we had ample access to weed. By this time, I was smoking weed habitually not only for the feeling it gave me, but my friends were doing it as well. Smoking weed elevated me to an adult who was living in a teenage boy's body! Even though I was acting like an adult, I still respected my parents, but outside of their home, I was running things. My home life was as close to perfect as it could get. I used to compare my parents to Ward and June Cleaver from a T.V. show back in the day called, "Leave it to Beaver." Neither parent drank, smoked, or did drugs. Everything drug or alcohol related I witnessed was outside of the house and mainly in the West Gardens Projects. By this time, I was graduating to harder drugs that got me higher. By 16, I was doing more drugs than the average addict. My superior intelligence is what I believe lead me to do these things and still maintain sports and grades. With that ego, the thought occurred to me I could handle stepping up my extracurricular drug activity up, as well. Just wait until you find out what I started taking as I continued to walk down this dark adult hallway! We will get back to that shortly.
Excerpted from "The Explosion of Redemption"
Copyright © 2017 Ricky C. Simmons.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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