An Australian, former top rugby player, Dan Palmer, has come out as gay in a self-penned column for the Syndey Morning Herald.
Palmer, 32, began by saying the column was “something I have been very apprehensive about writing. I have not been forced to do this, nor do I seek the attention it may bring.”
Palmer is a former vice-captain of Super Rugby side ACT Brumbies. He was selected to play one match for Australia’s national rugby union team, nicknamed the Wallabies, in 2012. His coming out makes him the first Wallaby to do so. Following his career in Australia, he played briefly for the French team FC Grenoble. He is now a coach and studying for a Ph.D.
However, he says that at the height of his career, he would cry himself to sleep, fearful of anyone discovering his sexuality. He says he was “living the dream” but trapped in a “false narrative.”
“I was incredibly frustrated, angry and desperately sad. I despised myself and the life I was living,” wrote Palmer.
“Most nights, I cried myself to sleep and routinely numbed myself with a heavy cocktail of opioids.”
He says he hit a rock bottom whilst in France. He awoke from an overdose of painkillers in a pool of his own vomit.
Palmer says, “I fantasized 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.”
Aged 25, and unable to keep his secret any longer, he confided to a friend in London. He talks emotionally about the flight to London, and the deep anxiety he felt about choosing to talk to someone.
“I distinctly remember not being able to say a word to him until we sat down at a restaurant where I cried uncontrollably across the table for minutes before passing him the note I had written on my phone.
“I don’t remember what he said after reading my message, but I do remember that he got it right. He was the first person I told that I was gay in my 25 years on the planet.”
Telling just one person brought Palmer some relief, but he felt he needed to make major changes in his life and start a new chapter. He decided it was time to walk away from rugby and enrolled at university back in Australia.
He went on to talk about his continuing struggles to come out more widely, fearing people would view him as “untrustworthy” for hiding his authentic self for so long.
“I was an expert at playing the role expected of me and maintaining the fictional character that had been created.”
Palmer says that the controversy over the remarks of another Wallabies player, evangelical Christian Israel Folau, had weighed heavily on him. Folau was fired by Rugby Australia in 2019 for social media postings that said gay people would go to hell. Folau later sued and settled with the organization over his dismissal.
“Although it wasn´t the primary impetus for me doing this, the longer the Folau saga dragged on, the more I felt a responsibility to say something,” said Palmer.
“To me, what is more important than the damage he 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.
“Thankfully, from my experience in rugby, views like Israel´s are the exception, not the rule.”
Before Palmer, the most high-profile Rugby Union player to come out was former Welsh captain Gareth Thomas, who came out in 2009.
Other players have posted supportive messages about Palmer since his column appeared today.
“Dan Palmer is one of the best men I got to know and play alongside in rugby. Incredibly hard working and an actual genius,” wrote Former Wallaby and ACT Brumbies flanker David Pocock on Twitter.
Current Wallabies captain Michael Hooper told reporters, “I feel really happy for Dan. He’s a great bloke, he’s a great Wallaby … His words speak loud in the article.”