Sport Former Wallabies prop Dan Palmer says hiding his homosexuality left him 'desperately sad'

08:51  30 october  2020
08:51  30 october  2020 Source:   msn.com

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Former Wallabies star Dan Palmer has stepped out as one of Australia's first openly gay professional rugby players and shared how hiding his sexuality almost In a groundbreaking article with the Sydney Morning Herald, Palmer admitted that his battle with his sexuality left him feeling 'incredibly

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Retired Wallabies and Super Rugby prop Dan Palmer has revealed the toll hiding his homosexuality took on his mental health during his playing career.

In an article written for The Sydney Morning Herald, Palmer described the inner turmoil he endured, even amid his achievements on the field.

Palmer made 46 Super Rugby appearances for the Waratahs and Brumbies — becoming a vice-captain for the latter side — and played a Test for the Wallabies against Scotland in 2012.

He is one of only a few male professional rugby union players to come out worldwide, the highest profile being former Wales, and British and Irish Lions international Gareth Thomas in 2009.

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Palmer said he was "incredibly frustrated, angry and desperately sad" during his career, adding that he was "trapped in a false narrative and could see no way out".

"I fantasised about disappearing, changing my name and starting my life all over again," Palmer wrote.

"It is not an exaggeration to say my own death felt preferable to anybody discovering I was gay."

"After overdosing on painkillers and waking up in a pool of the previous day's food, it was clear to me that I was rapidly self-destructing and that something had to change."

Palmer flew to London to see a friend and spoke about his sexuality.

"He was the first person I told that I was gay in my 25 years on the planet," Palmer wrote.

"Telling him removed a weight I had been carrying for as long as I could remember. I am forever grateful that he was there for me that day."

Former test prop Palmer becomes first Wallaby to come out as gay

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He retired soon afterwards in 2014, shifting his focus to university study following his time at French rugby side Grenoble.

He made a short comeback in 2015 for a Brumbies' Super Rugby trip to South Africa but then retired for good.

Palmer has since completed a double degree in science and psychology at the Australian National University in Canberra, and achieved first class honours in neuroscience.

He is now working on his PhD.

He said he never felt directly discriminated against during his career, and that "the battle for me was primarily with myself rather than with obvious external pressures or discrimination".

Palmer said he was inspired by Thomas's public statements, even though he didn't feel he had the strength to do the same at the time.

"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," he wrote.

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Folau's views the exception, not the rule, says Palmer

Palmer reserved stinging criticism for former rugby union star Israel Folau, who was sacked by Rugby Australia in 2019 for breaching the players' code of conduct.

Folau made a number of controversial Instagram posts, including one proclaiming hell awaits "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators".

Palmer said that while the Folau saga dragged on, he began to feel a responsibility to say something — although he emphasised it was not his primary reason for revealing his story.

"To me, what is more important than the damage he [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 wrote.

"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 is a slow grind, but we need to build a culture, both in and out of sport, where people are comfortable being themselves, whatever that may be."

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Palmer supported by former teammates

Palmer's decision to publicly discuss his sexuality was praised by Wallabies captain Michael Hooper, a former teammate in both the national team and at the Brumbies.

"I feel really happy for Dan," Hooper said.

"I do know Dan. He's a great bloke, a great Wallaby, great rugby player and now coach.

"I wish him all the best and it was a very powerful column."

Hooper said Palmer should feel proud of what he wrote.

"Dan is putting that out there and I think his words speak loud in the article," he said.

Another former teammate, recently retired Wallabies back rower David Pocock, took to Twitter to offer his support to Palmer.

"I believe sport is at its best when it's challenging society to be more inclusive," he tweeted.

Pocock said Palmer's article was a "good reminder of how much more work there is to do" to encourage inclusivity in sport.

Erik Denison, a researcher at Monash University's School of Social Sciences, has conducted research on homophobic language in rugby union and the impact on players struggling with their sexuality.

Mr Denison said Palmer's experience was similar to what Thomas went through during his playing career prior to revealing his sexuality.

He said sporting organisations around the world needed to address the issue of why some athletes feel "unwelcomed and not safe to come out".

"I think the fact that all these stories are the same year after year over literally the last half-century, that should be a bit of a wake-up call for those in sport that something's wrong here, we need to change something," he said.

Mr Denison said he hoped Palmer's decision to write about his experiences would help athletes who were struggling with their sexuality.

"Hopefully this might be the piece of the puzzle that helps them not take the step that he did where he tried to take his own life," he said.

Proof that the Wallabies are in the Wright hands .
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has made a multitude of divisive team changes for Game 4 of the Bledisloe Cup series. However, it is the selection of debutant Tom Wright that piques my interest and proves the Wallabies are in the right hands. Since the beginning of his tenure, Rennie insisted on a performance-based policy within the Wallabies squad and explicitly highlighted that an international Test cap must be earned. Three games into what he referred to as a four-year campaign, numerous weaknesses have revealed themselves.

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