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Irish Olympic martial artist wishes he hadn’t come out publicly

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Jack Woolley came out as bi in a documentary and the Irish Olympian now feels it was premature.

Jack Woolley will represent Ireland in Olympic taekwondo.
Photo courtesy Jack Woolley

Jack Woolley has made history as the first Irish athlete to qualify for the Olympics in taekwondo. He is also the first out LGBTQ Irish Olympic athlete, coming out in a documentary as bisexual. It’s that latter first he wishes he could have back.

In a profile on the Irish website Extra, Woolley, 21, discusses why he wishes he had not disclosed to a documentary crew on camera that he is bi.

He regrets saying it on television now. He had only just come out to his parents and it was around the place. But his grandparents still didn’t know and had to be told. It caused some anxiety before it was broadcast. It’s the label he doesn’t like.

He doesn’t want to be known as a gay athlete, rather the lad from Tallaght who created history in his sport by going to the Olympics.

‘I just wish I never labelled it. I still don’t like labeling it. People are just hell-bent on giving everyone labels nowadays.

‘I’m not the Welsh rugby player (Gareth Thomas) or (diver) Tom Daley, they are big names and people talk about them but if you notice, I didn’t even know his name, he was just the rugby player. I don’t want to be that. I want to be the first Irish Olympian in my sport, the lad from Tallaght who went to the Olympics, not Jack the gay athlete.

‘People assume a lot about you when you are given a label.

‘They will say you are very flamboyant or whatever, but the thing is I kick people for a living,’ he says.

One reason he gives for his regret is that some opponents from less-tolerant countries have refused to shake his hand. But at the same time he says most people don’t care and that “maybe it can be good, maybe I can be an inspiration to some young people. And if someone wants to talk to me about what they are going through, they can but I’m not throwing it in your face.”

I understand where Woolley is coming from and people need to be 100% ready to come out, especially those in the public eye like Olympians. He also might not have been aware that the documentary — “Road to Rio” — was going to get attention in other media for his declaration.

But he needs to understand that he’s being “labeled” not for a bad reason but because that’s what initially happens to trailblazers. Barack Obama was labeled the first black U.S. president, while no one labeled Donald Trump the 44th white president. Obama’s win was historic and his being labeled was a positive, one that inspired millions.

Woolley also needs to know that being LGBT does not make anyone automatically “flamboyant.” Especially someone who is an elite martial artist. Ask the eight American gay or bi college football players. Or one of the world’s strongest men, who is gay and married. They are all known as tremendous athletes, who happen to be of a certain sexual orientation and the label is seldom used on them unless they are discussing it in context.

Outsports will cheer on Woolley — who has a real medal chance in the 58k division — and also applaud him for being a role model for other martial artists who can relate to his journey.

Jack Woolley can be followed on Instagram.