“The story is really brave to tell but it’s just the latest story and there hasn’t been change in sport,” Denison said.
“With all of those previous stories [of former players coming out], the floodgates haven’t opened.
“We know that there are other gay players. We definitely know in Super Rugby there are gay players. But they aren’t coming out. It’s the same in AFL, it’s the same in NRL.
“It really comes down to the fear that’s created by the language that’s being used. If you grow up from 10 years old and are hearing your teammates call people fags, queers, all those kinds of things – not necessarily maliciously – but more around denigrating anything that’s bad or weak – you have a fear attached to that.”
The answer, in Denison’s eyes, is to stop the rot at club level.
While rugby is a leader among sports in welcoming the gay community – which Denison calls the “Pocock effect” – the use of homophobic language remains.
“Rugby has been a world leader in terms of being open and being quite proactive. But I think that hasn’t translated to change at the community rugby level, where homophobic behaviour remains rife and gay kids are almost invisible because they hide their sexuality,” Denison said.
“What we need to do now is the individuals who are really running rugby clubs to read this article and understand how far we have to go because his story is the same as many that joined the Sydney Convicts or the Melbourne Chargers every year. We here these stories constantly. The challenge isn’t that people are homophobic. They just use language that’s homophobic.”
Hooper applauded Palmer’s “powerful” column which revealed the full toll of hiding his sexuality while playing for the Waratahs, Brumbies and Wallabies.
Hooper crossed paths with Palmer for two years at the Brumbies – in 2011 and 2012 – and while the Australian captain was careful when asked about the piece, he applauded Palmer’s courage.
“I feel really happy for Dan. I do know Dan. He’s a great bloke, he’s a great Wallaby, a great rugby player and now coach. I wish him all the best,” Hooper said. “It was a very powerful column.”
Pocock joined the chorus of plaudits via Twitter.
“Dan Palmer is one of the best men I got to know and play alongside in rugby. Incredibly hard working and an actual genius,” he said. “I believe sport is at its best when it’s challenging society to be more inclusive. A good reminder of how much more work there is to do.”
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Sam is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.