British race walker Tom Bosworth earned admiration after clawing his way back from injury to claim seventh place in the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha.
But the multiple record-holding 29-year-old also gained respect for speaking candidly about both the mental health battle he fought following his shock disqualification from the London World Championships in 2017, and his relationship with fiancé Harry Dineley.
Being the only openly gay athlete on Team GB was of no small significance considering the championships were held in a country where homosexuality is illegal.
Bosworth decided against taking an overt stance during the competition itself – “I’ll go there and be myself…I’m not going to start running down the road with rainbow flags” – which must have come as a relief to the British Athletics PR machine tasked with defusing any media furore that action would have prompted.
But he has been outspoken on his views about locating the championships in Qatar, where homosexuality can carry a five year prison sentence, joining a small band of sporting elites who have accepted the risk of backlash from the public, media and even their own sport to take a stand on issues they believe passionately in.
American football quarterback Colin Kaepernick became a hero to young black Americans and the face of Nike’s Emmy award-winning Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything advertising campaign after taking a knee during the US national anthem in 2016 in protest at racial injustice – but has been blocked by every team since, despite being at the peak of his game.
Closer to home, Manchester City and England footballer Raheem Sterling has become a role model to other young black players for speaking out against racism – a stance which was cited alongside his prowess on the pitch when the Football Writers’ Association named him its 2019 Footballer of the Year.
Perhaps the truth is that some decisions are just too important to be considered through a PR lens and the risk of ‘damaging’ your public image, and commercial value, is worth taking.
With not one male player having come out as openly LGBT among the 4,000 professional footballers in the UK, surely it’s time for one brave soul to follow Bosworth’s lead and ‘Just Do It’.