12 Leadership Lessons from DocuSign CEO Dan Springer



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In Comparably’s ongoing series in partnership with Entrepreneur, If I Knew Then: Leadership Lessons, I host virtual fireside chats with high-profile CEOs of major brands from, Nextdoor and Blue Apron, to Waze and Warby Parker. As the host, I ask talented leaders to share some of the valuable lessons and practical career advice they learned during their career trajectory. These rare, candid insights into the lives of remarkable catalysts for success in the business world are accessible as a resource of inspiration for current and future entrepreneurs and are not to be missed. When CEOs get transparent, you can’t help but lean in.

For the latest episode, I sat down with Dan Springer, CEO of DocuSign, who leads thousands of employees globally, allowing DocuSign to modernize organizations by making every agreement 100 percent digital. Driving innovation and growth in technology and the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) industry exemplifies Springer’s executive leadership and experience for the past 25 years. Prior to DocuSign, the Harvard MBA graduate served as chairman and CEO at Responsys for a decade, where he revolutionized and grew the business from a private startup to a leading cross-channel global marketing automation platform — resulting in Oracle’s $1.6 billion purchase of Responsys in 2013.

As a veteran of Silicon Valley, Springer holds honors as both the Bay Area’s Most Admired CEO and Best CEO. He is also a 2020 recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award, sharing this accolade alongside top U.S. infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, as well as San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick, for his leadership on social change during these trying times. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bono, and the late Representative John Lewis have also received this award, catapulting Springer into the company of greatness. 

Among other topics, this conversation covers Springer’s origin story — from “winning the ovarian lottery” to attending the famous Lakeside High School with alumni such as Bill Gates and Paul Allen — laying the foundation for his early life before becoming a serial entrepreneur. Here are the 12 essential takeaways from our chat:

1. Successful business leaders don’t all come from the same mold 

Everyone has a different background and path in life; use that to propel you forward. Springer shares that he grew up with a single mom in an affluent suburb, which might have given him a chip on his shoulder in the early part of his career at McKinsey. However, he turned that initial insecurity into something positive by excelling and overachieving.

2. Use failure to push you to do better

Springer expounds on the concept of grit, and on the notion that surviving a little bit of a failure pushes you to do better. Failure pushed him in that way, and he often thought, I’m going to keep trying and fight through it and not let that experience define me.

3. There is an element of serendipity in all of our careers 

When he looks at each of the things he has done, Springer admits he only gets a third of them to turn out the way he wants them to: “I do think you have to be in a position where you accept that both good fortune and bad fortune will come your way. You can’t get overly down or overly up and get complacent. You have to have that energy to keep charging ahead.” 

4. A great leader knows how to play to people’s strengths and bring employees together

Know how to bring people together. For example, sometimes the innate traits of people-pleasers and conflict-avoiders have enormous value. Springer has used these positive attributes to build teams: “I was always trying to make everyone work well together.”

5. Humility makes you a better leader 

Accepting that there’s always room for improvement is the key to being a great manager of people. Springer says that having a healthy respect for your colleagues within an ecosystem is the future of leadership, rather than charging hard via your ego. 

6. There is a three-part formula for how to evaluate people

To calculate this, take your smarts and your strengths, or “S,” divide that by your ego, or “E,” and then raise that to the power of how hard you work. “If my ego gets too high, it wipes out the other components,” Springer says. “You can improve some of your skills over time, but your ego and how hard you work are components within this formula that you can control — and mastering what you can control makes a big impact.”

7. Exiting at the top of your game to be a stay-at-home parent is worth it 

Springer talks about the opportunity he took to focus on being a single dad to his two young sons after selling his previous company. He recalls exiting at the top of his game to focus on fatherhood as one of his best personal and professional decisions. “Men should choose parenthood over work more, instead of the pressure for women to do so.” 

8. Having empathy is the key to being successful as a citizen 

Springer taught his sons a great lesson when he told them that they’ll be happier in the long run if they help others in life: “We are very involved with The Boys and Girls Club. We pick organizations that we really want to get behind with our focus and time beyond just our money.”

9. Be a servant leader and take an interest in making your employees successful

Upon returning to the workforce after a four-year hiatus to raise his sons, Springer realized he had missed helping young people develop their careers. He is a big believer in servant leadership and prioritizing the success of employees. By welcoming all points of view and focusing on the professional development of staff, a servant leader can create more trust and loyalty within the organization. 

10. Hire smart people with expertise and let them drive

No one person can be an expert at everything. Have an awareness of when you are out of your depth in a certain area and the confidence to hire people with that expertise, and then let them drive. “We don’t hire people that are smart and tell them what to do; we hire people that are smart so we don’t have to tell them what to do,” Springer says.

11. It’s important to have the rigor to know how you are spending your time 

Knowing when those extra hours in the office are needed and when they are not is crucial. Springer admits that he was notoriously one of those people who felt accomplished when he checked things off his to-do list. He spent hours on things that were just reactions to people and not necessarily quality time for big-picture strategic thinking. He suggests we pick our spots of when we need to show up and deliver, and when we can sneak away to play with our kids.

12. Get rid of the small things so you can focus on the big ones

An example of this is getting everything out of your e-mail inbox before you get into bed. “If I can’t get it onto a yellow sticky, it’s too complicated,” Springer says. “I tell people that if we are doing a 45-minute meeting, I want to see the slides the night before. That kind of discipline makes everyone more productive, and without focus and attention, we do not do a good job of solving problems.”

Watch the full webinar to hear more insights from this incredible leader. 



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Dan Lawrence to provide valuable cover for Brisbane Heat


English batsman Dan Lawrence has been added to the Brisbane Heat squad as a replacement for countryman Tom Barton for the opening stages of the BBL season.

Barton and another of the Heat’s imports, all-rounder Lewis Gregory, have been selected for England’s upcoming tour of South Africa and won’t be available for the start of the BBL campaign next month.

Lawrence, 22, starred for the English Lions on their unbeaten “A” tour of Australia last summer, scoring 498 runs, including two centuries, at an average 98.6.

He also took 11 with his right-arm off-spinners.

“Dan is a really exciting pick-up for us and has a good reputation as a young player who can influence results with his skills and experience,’’ Heat coach Darren Lehmann said.

“He caught the eye during the Lions tour with the way he adapted so successfully to local conditions and that is something we think will help at the start of the tournament when we are playing in Canberra and at the Gabba and Metricon Stadium.

“Hopefully we can assist him to further develop as a player and also provide him with the stage to showcase his skills for the English selectors and give them reasons to look at him as part of their Ashes set-up for next season.”

Lawrence can’t wait to return to Australia.

“The BBL is a bit of a staple diet for us at home during our winter and it will be enormous to be a part of the league out there this summer,’’ the Essex product said.

“The Lions tour was a rewarding one for a lot of the squad and we certainly enjoyed the competitive cricket we got.”

“We were able to play in some excellent venues during the tour. We didn’t get to play at the Gabba but we had a match at Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast which was great.”

“I kept a pretty close eye on Tom Banton and the other English players who were in the BBL and so coming out to join the Heat is going to give me the chance now to challenge myself again in Australian conditions.

“I’m looking forward to meeting everyone at the Heat and working with the lads to get the team off to a good start.”



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Open letter from Aboriginal health groups asks Woolworths to drop Darwin Dan Murphy’s bid


Opponents of the large-scale Dan Murphy’s outlet planned for Darwin are targeting shareholders and board members of supermarket giant Woolworths, urging the parent company to abandon the continued push against the rejection of the required liquor licence.

An open letter timed to coincide with the company’s annual general meeting today is signed by National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation boss Pat Turner, as well as the heads of NT health and social groups and the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE).

The letter says the proposed outlet, which was rejected for the location currently proposed on public health grounds, risks undermining progress made since the introduction of government reforms to tackle the NT’s high rates of alcohol-related harm.

“The Dan Murphy’s you want to build will be one of the biggest bottle shops in Australia,” the letter reads.

“We ask you to stop this plan to profit from people who are at their most vulnerable.”

The campaign comes as NT Parliament is today expected to pass “urgent” amendments announced by the Labor Government on Tuesday to fast-track a fresh decision on the application, with the requirement to consider community impact suspended.

AMA criticises ‘corporate lobbying’

Neither Woolworths nor its liquor retailing arm Endeavour Drinks Group (EDG) responded to questions about signs an alternative site for the outlet may be on the table.

In a 103-page decision, the independent Liquor Commission last year said building the outlet on land between the inner northern suburbs and airport was too close to vulnerable Aboriginal communities.

The Government’s amendments would give the Director of Licensing the power to remake a decision on the company’s licence application and expressly allows consideration of a new location.

Woolworths did not respond to questions about whether an alternative site for the outlet is on the table.(Supplied: NT Airports)

On Wednesday, NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner told reporters the liquor giant had not had a hand in drafting the Government’s legislation.

But the head of the Australian Medical Association’s NT branch, Robert Parker, said it appeared the government had been lobbied “to the detriment of the health of Territorians.”

“[The proposed amendments] mean corporations obviously can get access to the fifth floor of Parliament, the plush carpeted areas, and have access to policy,” Dr Parker said.

Olga Havnen from Darwin’s Danila Dilba Health Service said the Government had not explained why public interest and community impact considerations should be suspended.

“This matter is not urgent,” she said.

The Government says its action, which requires the licensing director to make a decision within 30 days, is warranted to deliver a resolution on an application lodged four years ago.

On Wednesday, Mr Gunner said he accepted responsibility as Chief Minister “for how we got here”.

Bottles of wine in a bottle shop
Woolworths is promising measures to mitigate the risk of harm, like “appropriate pricing.”(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)

The licence application was first blocked by a Labor policy that introduced a limit on bottle-shop floor-size, which closely mirrored a suggestion from Dan Murphy’s competitors and was later repealed because of a lack of evidence.

The development has the backing of Darwin business groups and would serve as the anchor tenant for a $17 million retail precinct proposed by NT Airports.

Woolworths having ‘meaningful conversations’

In response to the points raised in the open letter, Woolworths gave a statement it said should be attributed to an EDG spokesperson.

It said two out of the three communities considered at risk from the proposed development, Minmarama and Kulaluk, had now both expressed support for the application.

The company was rebuked in the Liquor Commission’s rejection of its licence for failing to consult the communities before deciding on the location of the development.

But Kulaluk resident Helen Secretary, who gave evidence against the proposal at the Liquor Commission, told the ABC by phone her concerns had since been satisfied.

She declined to say how until a final decision is made, but said members of her community were entitled to drink alcohol like anyone else.

The spokesperson said the company had committed to a number of measures to mitigate the risk of harm, including “appropriate pricing” and a traffic management plan.

The commission’s ruling highlighted potential risk to pedestrians crossing the multi-lane Bagot Road, as well as informal drinking camps near the airport, and considered the company’s business model would drive Darwin’s price of beer down close to the NT’s floor price.



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Woolies faces backlash over Dan Murphy’s Darwin megastore


The groups, which include the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, the Northern Territory Council of Social Services and the Australian Medical Association, do not plan to put the question directly to the board at the shareholder meeting on Thursday.

The Independent Liquor Commission, which was set up by the NT government as part of its plan to develop an integrated harm reduction strategy around alcohol, rejected the Woolworths proposal in September last year saying it was not in the public interest.

“Alcohol fuelled crime and anti-social behaviour is already a major concern within the broader Darwin community,” it said in its decision.

Woolworths is appealing the decision, but on Wednesday the NT government introduced legislation that would sideline the independent Liquor Commission and give the director of liquor licensing 30 days to decide on the application.

“This legislation is about cutting red tape, it is about clearing applications which have been caught up administratively for years now,” a government spokeswoman told the ABC.

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Woolworths’ liquor business, Endeavour Drinks, said in a statement on Wednesday: “We have spent a lot of time having meaningful conversations with local communities in Darwin to understand their views, listen to any concerns they may have and to address them.

John Paterson, chief executive of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory, said: “The absolute hypocrisy of Woolworths taking this action, while being a partner of NAIDOC Week, is almost unbelievable.”

“For example, we have been working closely with the Elders and leaders of both the Minmarama and Kulaluk communities and we have committed to a number of measures that we believe will mitigate the risk of alcohol related harm.”

Woolworths’ board had planned to be free of the alcohol and pubs business by this stage. The company’s investors voted to demerge the $10 billion Endeavour Drinks business, which includes Dan Murphy’s and its controversial pubs and poker machines business, at last year’s annual meeting.

Plans to spin-off Endeavour fell through this year when its pubs were forced to close due to COVID-19.

The Woolworths shareholder meeting is due to start 10am on Thursday.

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NT Government to sidestep independent Liquor Commission in long-running Dan Murphy’s decision process


A decision on a fiercely fought bid for a liquor megastore in Darwin will rest with a government bureaucrat after NT Labor vowed to rush through legislation that sidelines the independent Liquor Commission the Government itself established.

Endeavour Drinks, which is owned by the Woolworths Group, has spearheaded a long-running bid to build a Dan Murphy’s outlet on Bagot Road.

Its application was rejected by an independent panel called the Liquor Commission last September, and that decision is currently being appealed for a second time before an independent tribunal.

But the new legislation, which the Government will introduce to NT Parliament on Wednesday, appears to circumvent both those bodies.

The bill would instead hand the ultimate say on the application to a bureaucrat called the director of liquor licensing and order them to make a decision within 30 days.

The legislation is “expected to pass on urgency on Thursday”, according to a government press release published in the hours before the NT Budget was handed down.

While the Dan Murphy’s proposal has the backing of some businesses groups, some of its strongest opposition has come from Indigenous health organisations concerned about the risk of increased alcohol-related harm in three nearby dry communities, Bagot, Kulaluk and Minmarama.

“We have certainly been blindsided,” John Paterson from the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT said.

“This undermines, from our perspective, proper processes and transparency and sends a message that corporate lobbying power will hold the day over health and community concerns.”

Danila Dilba Health Service and its chief executive, Olga Havnen, are among those who have criticised the legislation.(ABC News)

“This is completely inconsistent with good social policy,” Olga Havnen, the CEO of Indigenous health organisation Danila Dilba, added.

“The only place where people are going to end up is in hospital or in jail.”

When the commission rejected the application, it said approving the plan would lead to a “significant increase in the level of alcohol-related harms which already exist in the community”.

The Government is also intending to fast-track a 2015 application for the reinstatement of a takeaway liquor licence somewhere in the remote Tiwi Islands community of Pirlangimpi.

Changes intended to cut red tape

Setting up the Liquor Commission and placing a moratorium on takeaway liquor licences were two recommendations made — and accepted by the Government — three years ago in a wide-ranging review it commissioned on alcohol policy.

The final report raised concern about the independence of the director of liquor licensing, then known as the director-general, and the fact their decisions were made without community input.

Government ministers have justified the legislation by saying its coronavirus recovery taskforce, the Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission, recommended in a draft report that business decisions be made within 30 days.

“Business has always said to me, ‘We want a quick decision — yes or no, we want a quick decision’,” Chief Minister Michael Gunner said after his Budget was handed down.

“So for me it’s getting the decision made, let’s all move on. That’s why I think it’s important for historical applications that have now been around for four years.”

Michael Gunner gestures and smiles at the camera.
Speaking after his first Budget was handed down, Michael Gunner said the legislation was about getting business decisions made quickly.(ABC News: Owain Stia-James)

It will be the second time this year Labor has changed legislation to help the company’s bid.

During Parliament’s emergency coronavirus sitting in March, the Government passed changes that would allow the company to substitute an existing liquor licence with the much larger proposed outlet.

A spokesperson for Endeavour Drinks said it was yet to see any details around the legislation but welcomed steps to bring the application process to a conclusion.

They said the company would continue to listen to and address community concerns about the store.

A Government spokeswoman said the legislation respected the findings of the alcohol review.

“This legislation is about cutting red tape, it is about clearing applications which have been caught up administratively for years now under legislation that was accurate at the time of application,” she said.

She said the eight-member Country Liberal Party Opposition should be able to adequately scrutinise the legislation before it was debated later this week.



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Dan Murphy’s Darwin store still unclear but NT Government could step in again to help out


Chief Minister Michael Gunner has flagged further potential intervention in the long-running bid to open a large-scale Dan Murphy’s outlet in Darwin, as the liquor giant looks set to stretch its licence battle into a fifth year.

A second appeal against the refusal of the licence by the Northern Territory Liquor Commission, which was set up by Labor, now looks likely to be pushed out from the date set for December.

Woolworths’ Endeavour Drinks Group (EDG) sought the postponement and has blamed the delay on staff illness and difficulties preparing evidence caused by COVID-related restrictions.

The parties will meet later this month to set a new hearing date in the NT Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

But a spokesperson for Mr Gunner said the Government wants the matter resolved as quickly as possible and will now consider “if any further action is required” over coming weeks.

Mr Gunner previously described the independent commission’s rejection of the licence as “a kick in the guts” for responsible drinkers.

Further action from the Government would come on top of amendments rushed through Parliament’s emergency coronavirus sitting in March, which Labor said addressed “technicalities” that killed the company’s first appeal against the decision.

At the time, the Government resisted lobbying from EDG for the creation of an overriding ministerial power to approve licence applications.

At a press conference on Monday, Mr Gunner refused to be drawn on what type of action the Government would take.

“It’s under consideration,” he said.

“I’ll be able to advise you of the action once we’ve finished considering it.”

Uncertain future for controversial bid

EDG has been fighting to use an existing licence for a now-closed BWS store to open what would be one of the company’s largest Australian outlets and the anchor tenant of a multi-million-dollar commercial precinct near Darwin airport.

The proposed development was rejected by the Liquor Commission last September.(Supplied: NT Airports)

The plan has the backing of business groups but is opposed by health and social services and some local Aboriginal groups, as well as the Australian Hotels Association NT.

The company’s licence application was rejected by the Liquor Commission in September last year largely because of the risks posed to nearby Aboriginal communities and pedestrians if the outlet was built at the proposed location.

An appeal was then knocked back in December when the tribunal found NT law did not allow for licence substitution to premises that were yet to be built — this was the law the Government then changed.

The amendments earlier this year also explicitly allowed substitutions that are not “like-for-like”, removing doubt about the legality of using a small store licence for an outlet found by the Liquor Commission to be 48 times the size of the original based on sales volume.

Labor has come under fire more than once for its handling of the Dan Murphy’s saga, starting when it introduced and then scrapped a bottle shop floor-size limit that stalled the licence application after it was first lodged in December 2016.

Health groups expressed alarm at the amendments rushed through Parliament earlier this year and urged the Government to stay the course with its alcohol reforms.

EDG previously expressed doubt the Government’s March amendments would resolve the authorities’ issues with its application.

The company declined a request for comment on the type of action it would want to see from the Government.



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AFL 2020: Dan Richardson sacked by Essendon, brutally honest club review, Richmond, Ben Rutten, trade news, Bombers


Essendon has sacked football boss Dan Richardson, who’s become the first casualty of a club review president Paul Brasher promised would be “brutally honest”.

The Bombers confirmed on Thursday afternoon Richardson had been cut just one day before the start of the AFL free agency period, in which Joe Daniher’s move to the Lions is expected to be one of the first deals lodged.

Richardson was hand-picked by the Bombers at the end of 2017 following a successful stint heading up Richmond’s football department, but on Wednesday night was told of the club’s call after just three seasons in the role.

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Richardson also played a key role in helping the club recruit now-senior coach Ben Rutten and assistant Blake Caracella, who were also poached from the Tigers.



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Former Wallabies prop Dan Palmer says hiding his homosexuality left him ‘desperately sad’


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.

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.

“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.”

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.

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”.

Israel Folau took Rugby Australia to the Fair Work Commission after they tore up his multi-million-dollar contract.(AAP: Joel Carrett)

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.

“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.”

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.

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.

A British and Irish Lions player holds the ball with is right arm while playing against the All Blacks.
Welsh, and British and Irish Lions international Gareth Thomas came out publicly in 2009.(Reuters: David Gray)

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.



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AFL 2020, Essendon, North Melbourne, Brad Scott, Dan Richardson, football manager


Former North Melbourne coach Brad Scott has emerged as a contender to be Essendon’s new head of football.

The Bombers sensationally sacked Dan Richardson after a disappointing 2020 campaign where the club failed to play finals, with the Herald Sun linking Scott to the position.

Richardson became the first axing after new president Paul Brasher promised a strong review into the club.

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Dan Palmer article reveals sexuality, mental health battle


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.



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