Dan Palmer in his rugby-playing days and more recently in 2018 (Pic: John Curtin School of Medical Research / Twitter)
Dan Palmer, a former prop for the Wallabies, has become only the second male rugby union player to come out as gay to the public.
Palmer, 32, who played for the Waratahs and Brumbies in Super Rugby, spoke about his journey of self-acceptance in a powerful article published by The Sydney Morning Herald on Friday.
He revealed that in 2012, despite living his childhood dream by playing professional rugby and making his debut for the Wallabies, he was struggling to cope with life in the closet.
“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,” said Palmer.
“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.”
He was in so much despair that he overdosed on painkillers before finally starting to come to grips with his sexuality during a short stint with French club Grenoble in 2013.
Palmer writes about flying to London to meet a friend, who became the first person he ever came out to, through a note he’d written on his phone.
“The next morning, I had changed in a way I didn’t anticipate. I hadn’t realised until then, but this was the first time in my life I had truly felt free. Not long after, I decided I needed to stop playing rugby and begin the next chapter of my life.”
Palmer started studying Science and Psychology and is now halfway through his PhD in Neuroscience.
He explained that when he started playing rugby he feared that if he was open about his sexuality “it would have been difficult to let my performance speak for itself.”
He added that, “I never felt directly discriminated against and I was comfortable in the rugby environment. As I have described, the battle for me was primarily with myself rather than with obvious external pressures or discrimination.”
In the article, Palmer also addresses the controversy surrounding disgraced Australian rugby star Israel Folau, who was fired for airing his homophobic religious views on social media.
“To me, what is more important than the damage [Folau] has caused rugby is the deep impact he has undoubtedly had on kids who looked up to him, and who struggle every day with understanding their sexuality. He will never see the impact he has had on these young people, but if he could, I doubt he could live with himself.”
Palmer follows in the footsteps of Gareth Thomas – a former British Lions captain and the most capped Welsh rugby player in history – who in December 2009, became the first international rugby player to come out as gay. (In 2019, Gareth also revealed that he is living with HIV.)
Palmer’s coming out has been widely welcomed in the rugby world. The Brumbies Twitter account shared his article and described him as “incredibly brave and honest,” adding “Love ye Palms! #BrumbiesFamily.”
Zimbabwe-born retired Australian rugby union player, David Pocock tweeted: “Dan Palmer is one of the best men I got to know and play alongside in rugby. Incredibly hard working and an actual genius.”
The rugby player turned academic said that he is sickened by the thought that in 2020 “there are still people torturing themselves the way I was, both in and out of sport – we need to be better.”
“If this piece can prompt a conversation, make space for people to feel more comfortable being themselves, or can help someone better understand what a loved one may be going through, it will have been a success,” said Palmer.