Dan Palmer, the former Australian professional rugby union footballer, who played for the Waratahs and Brumbies in Super Rugby, before making his debut with the Wallabies in 2012, remains a legend in the sporting code. However, what many don’t know about Palmer is that the former Wallabies prop was for a long time battling with his sexuality, having today in an emotional opinion piece written for the Sydney Morning Herald, come out as gay.
“I despised myself and the life I was living. I was trapped in a false narrative and could see no way out. Most nights, I cried myself to sleep and routinely numbed myself with a heavy cocktail of opioids…. I fantasised about disappearing, changing my name and starting my life all over again. It is not an exaggeration to say my own death felt preferable to anybody discovering I was gay,” Palmer wrote, with a breathtaking honesty that he hopes will help others confronting the same struggle.
After a series of injuries which left Palmer unable to play in 2013, he writes about how a fresh rugby contract with FC Grenoble in the French Top 14 competition, should have been both a positive and transformative experience. Instead the then 25-year-old as he reveals, overdosed on pain killers then made a dash to the London, where he first told a close friend of his inner struggles.
But for Palmer, his need to play rugby had already passed, moving back to Australia in mid-2014 to begin undergraduate studies at The Australian National University in Canberra. A keen student Palmer has since completed a double degree in Science and Psychology alongside achieving First Class Honours in Neuroscience and a soon to be completed PhD on the cellular mechanisms of brain function.
Despite the inroads which have made by the sporting code since 2014, we cannot unfortunately write lest even discuss homosexuality and homophobia in Rugby Union these days without mention of Israel Folau. The disgraced former Wallaby player was of course fired in May last year after a defamatory Instagram post where he claimed, “all gays were going to hell.” But as Palmer writes, it wasn’t within the realms of rugby that Folau and his bigotry caused the most damage.
“He will never see the impact he has had on these young people, but if he could, I doubt he could live with himself. Thankfully, from my experience in rugby, views like Israel’s are the exception, not the rule. It was encouraging to hear a chorus of prominent voices from rugby players and officials globally that condemned his position and continue to push for a more accepting and inclusive sporting landscape.”
These days, Palmer continues his involvement with rugby as a coach with the Brumbies and though he believes the code is on the right track, the 32 -year-old admits “we are not quite there yet.”
We can only hope that the courage shown by Palmer, and by other players such as Ian Roberts of rugby league fame who came out in 1995 and Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas who came out in 2009 that this becomes less newsworthy and more widely accepted.