Among the many philanthropists in the athletic world, there is one athlete that shines without a major spotlight. Two-time Olympic medalist with an abundance of World Championship titles, Tom Daley is one of the biggest names in aquatic sports.
The now 25-year-old diver from Great Britain began his professional athletic career at the age of 14. He was the youngest athlete on Team Great Britain to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he won a bronze medal for men’s 10 meters synchronized diving.
Ever since then, Daley has gone on to exceed all expectations. In 2009, just a year after his first Olympic Games, Daley became the country’s youngest world champion diver at the age of 15. Up to this point, Daley’s professional career couldn’t be more exceptional.
However, just like gravity, life has its way of pulling people down from the pivot point. In 2011, Daley lost his father to brain cancer. While devastated, Daley overcame his grief by dedicating his 2012 Olympic competition to his father, and he won another bronze medal.
Continuing this victorious streak, Daley had another outstanding performance at this year’s Fina Diving World Series and Championship. He finished with 13 medals and secured qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
According to Daley, the main goal of this world series was not about acquiring a placement on the podium but rather attaining a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and that is exactly what he did. Tokyo will be his fourth Olympic Games, following Beijing, London and Rio De Janeiro.
“Obviously I’m a bit disappointed but also excited about getting ready for next year. I came with one job: to qualify two places for the Olympics. And I did that,” Daley said to BBC in July of this year.
Although Daley has seen both highs and lows throughout his career thus far, his fame outside of the pool transcends his recognition in the sport.
In 2014, when Daley publicly came out of the closet and married Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, he evidently became an avid spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ community. The husband duo is currently raising a 1-year-old baby boy.
In diving, Daley is dominating the field with his skills and passion. With his athletic abilities, he is more than qualified to represent his country. As a public figure, however, his talent is just the surface of what makes him different from other athletes.
Aside from his athletic career, Daley is also a social media influencer. He operates a YouTube channel, where he posts videos of his travels, training and family. With over 800,000 subscribers on YouTube and over 2 million followers on Instagram, Daley possesses significant influence over his audience with his content, and he never abuses this power and responsibility.
Even though the 2016 Rio Olympics saw over 100 LGBTQ+ athletes, the stigma that surrounds homophobia in sports continues to be a topic of discussion today.
As one of the more identifiable athletes, Daley uses his platform to help overcome this barrier. During his competition at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, Daley addressed this taboo topic.
The Commonwealth Games is a friendly competition that brings together former countries who were under the rule of the British empire. Today, 38 out of 53 Commonwealth countries still have anti-gay laws that prevent LGBTQ+ people from coming out of the closet.
After winning the gold, Daley took to his social media to express his gratitude for being able to compete as an openly gay athlete, as well as calling for further progression toward LGBTQ+ rights in Commonwealth countries.
He said, “37 of the competing nations criminalize being LGBTQ+. I feel so lucky to be able to be openly who I am without worry. I hope one day every athlete from every nation in the commonwealth will be free to compete openly as who they are too!”
The Olympic Games are the world’s biggest and most recognized competition, where patriotism is on full display. American patriotism is heavily rooted within our culture, so I know that rooting for a different country might be perceived as disloyal.
In this case, I believe that supporting an athlete doesn’t have to be affiliated with their country of origin. Rooting for Daley is more than just cheering for his team. It is also an act of agreeing with his activism for the greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ athletes in major sports.
In both his athletic profession and personal endeavors, Daley is the embodiment of what passion, determination and positivity look like. He keeps a humble mindset and stays true to himself, family and his viewers.
By showing his career development, he exemplifies that the journey toward a goal is worth cherishing, conveying a clear message of the importance of hard work and persistence. And I think these qualities are what sets him apart from other athletes for which one might root.
To be clear, I am not implying that other athletes do not possess these qualities. I am simply stating that as both a social media influencer and athlete, Daley is a good example of what responsible and proactive activism looks like, specifically as an international LGBTQ+ activist.
With the 2020 Summer Olympics just around the corner, Daley and his teammates are preparing for the competition as we speak. Whatever the future result will be for Daley at the Olympics, I believe that I, and many of his viewers, will be able to learn from his journey getting there.
The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games is set to take place from July 24 to Aug. 9. When the time comes, you can see Daley compete for Great Britain during the Men’s 10 Meters diving competition.