Why Openly Gay Athlete and Olympic Gold Medalist, Tom Daley, Wants Diverse Company on Podiums and in Leadership
As one of the UK’s most accomplished athletes, Tom Daley knows what it’s like to be in uncharted waters as an openly gay man. Here he shares his views on the value of being ourselves and supporting others to be themselves, too.
If you haven’t yet subscribed to Tom Daley’s YouTube channel, you might want to. There’s something for everybody. You can work out with him (his abs are quite inspiring), gain behind-the-scenes glimpses into an elite athlete’s life (a tour of the Olympic Village, anyone?), and listen in on his life hacks (including how he sets goals and what he eats). As an openly gay athlete, he is doing his part to prove that you can be LGBTQ+ and be at the top of your game.
This is important to Tom. Doing so offers more representations of how elite athletes can think, live, and be. As he explained in a talk for adidas employees, many factors emboldened him to pursue endeavors that had seemed impossible. Additionally, he suggests actions we can take to further support others in moving past the impossible.
Be a role model
“Matthew Mitcham and Greg Louganis are heroes of mine. They stepped out of their comfort zone, came out, and were visible. Seeing that as a little kid made me feel quite powerful in who I was.”Tom Daley
When he was young, Tom feared his options were limited because he felt he was not what society wanted. “I worried I was never going to fit in with a sport that I wanted to do,” he explains. However, two divers, in particular, inspired him to pursue his Olympic dreams. “Matthew Mitcham and Greg Louganis are heroes of mine. They stepped out of their comfort zone, came out, and were visible. Seeing that as a little kid made me feel quite powerful in who I was. It showed me that we can aspire to be who we know we are deep down.”
In his openness, Tom is making his route to success visible. As only the third male openly gay athlete to win an Olympic gold medal – Matthew Mitcham was the first, in 2008 – Tom acknowledges that progress in this area has been slow. (In 2018, Eric Radford was the second male openly gay athlete to win an Olympic gold medal; Greg Louganis came out after his Olympic golds.) But Tom is grateful to have had role models he could relate to and who were doing what he aspired to. He is hoping that his example can encourage others to pursue their dreams.
All of us have opportunities to be visible in attaining what we may have thought was impossible. Additionally, we can hold up role models that spread the power of embracing our true selves.
In 2013, when Tom came out as an openly gay athlete, he took a significant risk. “I was terrified that I was going to lose all my sponsorships,” he explains. He wasn’t alone in this fear. “My manager at the time was trying to persuade me not to come out because of losing sponsorships and other support.” As Tom points out, LGBTQ+ rights have come a long way since 2013. Despite the vulnerability that coming out presented, Tom says he felt he had no other choice. “I got to the point where I knew who I was. Even if people didn’t like who I was, I couldn’t go on living as someone that I wasn’t.” Luckily, his sponsors stood by him.
He and adidas were aligned on the fact that who we are is what makes us strong. “All of the things that I’ve had to overcome and face at school, in life, and in my career have made me the person I am today. And it’s with help from brands like adidas that I have been able to create a platform that allows me to help other people in their journey as well.”
Another way Tom suggests we support each other in being our truest and best selves is through empathy. “I think the biggest superpower that anybody could have is a sense of empathy,” Tom explains. While he frames empathy as aspirational, to him that is a clear indication to go for it.
“Empathy could put different people in leadership roles. It could also put the straight white men who have held many of the leadership roles in other people’s shoes. This would allow them to see what others have had to go through growing up, what they had to experience every single day.” He points out, “If we all understood each other’s perspectives better, we could have a greater desire to create change. I would love to be able to create positive change in sport.”
“The more different points of view we have going towards one collective goal, the better our opportunity of getting there.”Tom Daley
One of the major changes Tom would like to see in sport is more diversity, which leads to greater inclusivity. “I think that the leaders within sport should be as diverse as humanly possible. We need points of view from different financial backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, racial backgrounds, genders, and sexual orientations. The more different points of view we have going towards one collective goal, the better our opportunity of getting there.”
Tom would like children from all over the world to see diverse examples of people achieving a wide range of success. “We could have global ambassadors who make underrepresented groups visible. Who tell their stories, show who they are, and help kids feel less alone. These ambassadors could be living proof that LGBTQ+ athletes, women, and members of other less visible groups are at the top of their sport. So we all have people who we can relate to who have achieved what might have seemed impossible.”
What are your favorite acts for increasing inclusivity on podiums and in leadership? Who do you see enacting the change you want to see in the world?
For more details topics including Tom’s insights on dealing with grief, injury, self-doubt, and coming out as a gay athlete, as well as the importance of humor, gyrotonics, show-biz, fatherhood, and true love, check out his autobiography, Coming Up for Air. Listening to Tom read the book to you is also an option.