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After emotional struggle, rugby prop Palmer comes out as gay

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Former rugby union international Dan Palmer has come out as gay in a lengthy self-written column in Australia's Fairfax Media in which he admits that earlier in his life it wasn’t “an exaggeration to say my own death felt preferable to anybody discovering I was gay.”

Palmer played a test in the front row for Australia in 2012. He had been vice-captain of the ACT Brumbies in Super Rugby and made his Wallabies debut that year, but cried himself to sleep “most nights,” often “numbed” by opioids.

Palmer, 32, joins former Wales winger Gareth Thomas as the only two rugby union internationals to say they are gay. The highest-profile gay player in rugby league in Australia was Ian Roberts, who came out as gay in 1995 while he was still playing in the National Rugby League but after he had played his last of 13 tests for Australia. Rugby referee Nigel Owens came out in 2007 during his high-profile international career.

Palmer describes his “incredibly frustrated, angry, and desperately sad” state, despite a year in 2012 where he was living out his childhood dream.

He said that although he thought he had “made it," he “fantasized about disappearing, changing my name and starting my life all over again.”

Palmer said the article published Friday 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.

“In fact, at this point I feel like I am describing the life of a completely separate person; albeit someone that shaped who I am today, for better or worse. I don’t think describing my experiences in this way is something I am obliged to do, but rather, I feel like it is something I should do, on the off chance it will help someone who finds themselves in a similar position."

After sustaining a series of injuries in 2013, Palmer signed a rugby contract with FC Grenoble in the French Top 14 competition. That’s when he said his life hit rock-bottom.

“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,” the former prop wrote.

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.”

He said he felt he wouldn’t be accepted by family and friends, but feared telling them would make him look as though he had deceived them for years.

Palmer continues his involvement with rugby as a coach with the Canberra-based Brumbies.

Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said he believes Palmer’s column could spark a positive change.

“I guess that’s why someone like Dan is putting that out there, his words speak loud,” Hooper said. “I feel really happy for Dan, he’s a great bloke, a great Wallaby, a great rugby player and now coach.”

David Pocock, a former Australia captain and veteran of three Rugby World Cup campaigns, went on social media to lend his support, saying Palmer was “one of the best men I got to know and play alongside in rugby. Incredibly hard working and an actual genius.”

“I believe sport is at its best when it’s challenging society to be more inclusive,” Pocock, who been an outspoken advocate of marriage equality and inclusiveness in general, posted Friday with a link to Palmer's story. “A good reminder of how much more work there is to do.”

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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