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Dan Palmer, former pro rugby player, comes out as gay in tear-jerker op-ed

Dan Palmer played rugby in Australia and France before coming out and leaving the pitch.

Australian Wallabies Portrait Session
Dan Palmer today looks and feels very different now than he did in this photo, when he competed for the Australian Wallabies in 2012.
Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Dan Palmer, a professional rugby player who once competed for the Australian national team, has come out publicly as gay.

In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Palmer said he’s sharing his story now “on the off chance it will help someone who finds themselves in a similar position.”

It’s a powerful must-read story that focuses on giving the reader a glimpse into the emotions and mental state of a gay athlete locked in a closet with the key seemingly thrown away. He talks about his success and his appearance with the Wallabies — Australia’s men’s national team — in 2012.

It just wasn’t enough.

“Despite all of this, I was incredibly frustrated, angry and desperately sad,” Palmer wrote. “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.”

In the piece he addresses an overdose of pills, the first person he came out to and the question that so many LGBTQ people have to answer to someone: Why didn’t you just tell us sooner? Palmer has a familiar answer.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t think my friends and family would accept me for who I was, I never had any doubt about that, they were always very loving and supportive. Rather, I thought they would feel like I had deceived them, that I was somehow untrustworthy.”

Erik Denison, a researcher with Monash University’s School of Social Sciences in Australia, has been involved in various studies about LGBTQ acceptance in sports. He sees Palmer’s story as simultaneously a lesson about the negative impact of homophobic language in sports, as well as hopeful inspiration for others.

“Dan wasn’t rejected by others despite his fears,” Denison said. “I hope his story might help other male athletes feel more confident they can be open about their sexuality with teammates. His story will help them feel less alone in their struggles.”

In the piece, Palmer also mentions that he isn’t doing this for attention, which I thought was both interesting and familiar. It’s a fear I’ve heard many times from athletes, “what if people think I’m just doing this for myself and for attention?” It’s a real concern for a lot of athletes who simply want to help, but I always tell them that if they do it “right,” it won’t feel that way to reasonable people.

With a lengthy, heartfelt first-person account, it certainly feels like Palmer is doing it “right.”

Palmer was a very rugby player in Australia for much of his adult life. He was on-and-off national teams through his teens and appeared for the Wallabies, making one appearance. He played rugby union professionally in both Australia and France.

He’s one of only a handful of professional rugby players to come out publicly, including fellow rugby union player Gareth Thomas, as well as rugby league players Ian Roberts and Keegan Hirst (Thomas had a stint in rugby league as well).

With great first-person pieces like this I try to not include too much but to encourage everyone to head over the SMH and read Palmer’s piece.