On the Naomi Osaka Situation

I am not even a tennis fan, and yet it caught my attention when Naomi Osaka, one of the top tennis players in the world, withdrew from the French Open (one of the biggest tournaments of the tennis season) last week as a result of a dispute with event organizers about her decision not to speak with news media during the event.[1] There can be disputes between athletes and the press, but seldom (if ever) does it get to a point that a star athlete withdraws from a major event.

However, it was no ordinary dispute between an athlete and the press. Osaka has made it clear that her decision to avoid the press was due to the impact press conferences had on her mental health—something that should not be taken lightly given the fact that the tennis star noted that she has suffered from “long bouts of depression” for years. And yet, in spite of the fact that she made it clear that the decision was made in order to take care of her mental health, she was given a $15,000 fine from the organizers of the French Open and was threatened with expulsion from the tournament.[2] As a result of all of this, Osaka withdrew from the tournament entirely.

As someone who knows people who battle depression, I am personally sympathetic to Osaka. Others have been much less sympathetic. However, regardless of where your own sympathies lie in this instance, there are some things that I think all of us should try to learn from this situation:

  • Successful people can struggle with their mental health. This should be the first, and maybe most obvious, thing that people should get from this whole situation. Osaka is a world-class tennis player, a winner in four “Grand Slam” tournaments,[3] and considered one of the top women’s tennis players in the world right now. And yet she goes through long bouts of depression. This goes to show that depression is not just for people who are struggling with life in general—highly successful people can go through it too.
  • Even successful people can have certain things that give them a ton of anxiety. For Osaka, it is speaking with the press—she said that she feels “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking with the press.[4] In other words, successful people are human too!
  • Different people process similar events or situations in different ways, and that is okay. To see how this can be the case, look at how Osaka and one of her tennis competitors, Serena Williams, deal with invasive and inappropriate questions from the press. Some people argue that since Serena Williams can weather through the pressure of such press conferences, so should Osaka. But, the fact is that Williams and Osaka are different people with probably different things that have an impact on their mental health.
  • Punishing someone for avoiding a certain obligation out of self-care puts that individual into a box: either forcing them to do the certain thing they’re avoiding out of self-care, or simply going in a different direction entirely. When the organizers of the French Open (who, in my humble opinion, should be ashamed of themselves) gave the punishment they did to Osaka, those were the two options she had: she could’ve avoided self-care by facing the press (which she decided not to do) or go in a different direction (which, in this case for Osaka, meant withdrawing from the French Open). Either way, punishing someone’s attempt at self-care as they’re battling something like anxiety or depression is not wise, and if one is not careful, could put someone’s life in peril.

These are just a few of the takeaways I have from the Osaka situation, though if others have other takeaways, feel free to let me know in the comments section below. Regardless, I want, and hope, that the situation with Osaka can be an opportunity to think not just about the mental health of athletes, but about mental health in general.


[1] Read more about the dispute here: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2021/may/31/naomi-osaka-withdraws-french-open-press-conference-fines-tennis

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Grand Slams” are the biggest tournaments on the tennis calendar, the tournaments with the most prestige. Those Grand Slams are the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open.

[4] Ibid.

9 Replies to “On the Naomi Osaka Situation”

  1. Brendan, the news also captured my attention. The points you have raised are very valid. In my view, the organizers’ response is an act of bullying towards a young, female athlete. Their only concern is making money at these tournaments.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And the fact that the organizers’ concern was about making money was a part of why I was left so puzzled with their heavy-handed approach to her. Certainly, pushing out the highest-paid and possibly most famous female athlete in the world right now doesn’t help in the “making money department,” or so I’d think.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Well said, Brendan.
    The organisers of the tournament have done themselves and their sport no favours forcing her into this position.
    Indeed one can only imagine that the whole episode has had a detrimental effect on her mental health, irrespective of the outcome.
    Would they penalise a player for being “unwell” if they had broken their arm and were unable to continue in the event? I think not. And yet they penalise her for “protecting herself” when not on court.
    And maybe it’s time for the press media to ask themselves if they have contributed to this situation too, which of course they have.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yes, and I think one of the major points of discussion is how the press themselves have contributed to the situation (and to other situations where press have put athletes in rather uncomfortable positions mentally and emotionally).

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I always thought Tennis was over rated, lol … Seriously though. Tennis Players like Naomi Osaka are the reasons WHY people come to the tennis in the first place. Not the media, and those organisers had better start realizing that. I believe the same tournament, a few years ago, I don’t know if they fined her or not. Serena Williams got into a lot of trouble for her cat playsuit, that she wore per advice from her Doctors. I believe that was at the French Open too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t even follow tennis that much. But yeah, I know enough to know that people watch the tennis for the stars like the Serenas, the Osakas, the Djokovics, the Nadals. Not the media. So to push an Osaka out is a big loss for the tournament.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The French Tennis president demanded that she answer questions from the press as the press has a right to ask questions. He read from a prepared statement to the press,,, then refused to answer questions.. From the Guardian:
    “After he and his colleagues had postured about the importance of press conferences a day earlier, he left without fielding a single question. Ultimately, their behaviour reflected old institutions that are desperate to maintain control, uninterested in the human cost….”

    Like

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