Gay Wallaby takes down Israel Folau
Former Wallabies prop Dan Palmer has opened up on what was a lifelong battle with his sexuality that drove him to the verge of suicide in a powerful article for the Sydney Morning Herald.
Palmer, who made his NSW Waratahs debut at 18-years-old and earned one appearance for Australia in 2012, detailed, in length, the harrowing experiences that underlined his struggles and put him on a path to honesty and transparency with himself, and those around him.
The 32-year-old made clear his choice to write this article was his own, "on the off chance it will help someone who finds themselves in a similar position".
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Palmer describes his "incredibly frustrated, angry, and desperately sad" state, despite a year in 2012 where he was living out his childhood dream. He had vice-captained the ACT Brumbies and made his Wallabies debut, but cried himself to sleep "most nights", often "numbed" by opioids.
The prop had "made it", completed what he and so many other young men could only dream of, but "fantasised about disappearing, changing my name and starting my life all over again".
Palmer says: "It is not an exaggeration to say my own death felt preferable to anybody discovering I was gay."
Since starting his studies in 2014, and walking away from his playing career, Palmer has completed a double degree in Science and Psychology, and has achieved first class Honours in Neuroscience, about halfway through his PHD in cellular mechanisms of brain function.
But that's a world away from his darkest days.
A year in France playing with FC Grenoble transformed Palmer's life; rock bottom finally forcing his hand into change, he says.
"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 writes.
A painful conversation with a friend in London followed, but "he was the first person I told that I was gay in my 25 years on the planet. Telling him removed a weight I had been carrying for as long as I could remember".
Through 25 years Palmer says he had become accustomed to omitting the truth, and moving conversations around so he could avoid the uncomfortable stuff. He made clear that his battles while playing rugby weren't necessarily a systematically-enforced problem, and instead more a battle with himself. But Palmer believed "it would have been difficult to let my performance speak for itself" if he was honest about his sexuality.
Palmer slammed Israel Folau's "ignorance", which pushed him - among other things - to finally write this story.
Folau had his Rugby Australia contract torn up for making homophobic comments on social media, before agreeing on a lucractive settlement with the governing body as he pursued legal action.
"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," Palmer says.
"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."
Palmer is one of a small group of current or former rugby players to come out as gay. And while he believes progress has been made, the reality is that there's a long way to go.
"We're on the right track, but we are not quite there yet," he says.
Originally published as Gay Wallaby takes down Israel Folau