The four-time grand slam winner accused authorities of ignoring the mental health of athletes.
Tennis star Naomi Osaka has announced that she will not be doing press conferences at the upcoming French Open in order to protect her mental health. Osaka has been warned that she would be fined for not attending the press conferences, but the four-time grand slam winner believes it's a small price to pay. The champion tennis player accused the media of constantly kicking the players when they are down, and forcing them to doubt their own ability. The bold stance from the athlete has sparked discussions on mental health, with many calling on organizations and companies to do more than just lip service when it comes to mental health.
Osaka refusing to attend press conferences has sent shockwaves across tennis given that she's ranked number two in the world. Osaka took to Instagram and wrote: I've often felt that people have no regard for athlete's mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference. We're often sat there and asked questions that we've been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I'm just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me."
Osaka pointed out many instances where players were affected by the lack of sensitivity from the media. "I've watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room and I know you have as well. I believe that whole situation is kicking a person while they're down and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it," wrote Osaka.
She added that the decision to not take media questions at Roland-Garros was not personal. "Me not doing press is nothing personal to the tournament and a couple journalists have interviewed me since I was young so I have a friendly relationship with most of them. However, if the organizations think that they can just keep saying, “do press or you're gonna be fined’, and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation then I just gotta laugh," wrote Osaka. "Anyways, I hope the considerable amount that I get fined for this will go towards a mental health charity," she added. According to ESPN, a pro-tennis player can be fined up to $20,000 for skipping a news conference at a major tournament.
I am enjoying this “fine me, I don’t care” energy.— roxane gay (@rgay) May 26, 2021
To top it off, she also posted a video of Venus Williams' father protecting her from a reporter who appeared to knock on her confidence when she was 14. During the interview, Venus Williams tells the reporter, "I know I can beat her," before adding that she's very confident. The reporter responds, "You say it so easily, why?" Venus' father Richard interjects the reporter and tells him to stop planting seeds of doubt in the young girl's mind. “You’re dealing with a little black kid and her confidence let her be, leave her alone!” Richard Williams tells the reporter. Venus Williams responded to the post, writing, "Girl, do you. Your life is yours to live! 🔥🔥🔥🔥❤️❤️❤️"
“You’re dealing with a little black kid and her confidence let her be, leave her alone!”— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) July 3, 2020
When Richard Williams schooled a journalist on how to interview his daughter Venus 👏
The post by Osaka sparked a lot of debate on the matter with some stating that she had every right to protect her mental health with a few others arguing that she was making a lot of money as a tennis player because of the media's access to her. Rennae Stubbs, a former player, and commentator praised Osaka. For someone who now works in media and knows how important quotes and sound bites are, I was also a player, with feelings! This move from Naomi is really an amazing moment for the media to LISTEN to these players and understand how tough it is for many of them and to do better, and get better!" they tweeted.
Another person contradicted Osaka's stance, writing, "Yes, mental health is very important, and I've always been respectful of players, win or lose. But you are asking low-paid journalists to feel sorry for someone who reportedly earned $55 million in a year. Naomi's been great with the press. I hope she reconsiders this approach." When one Twitter user said she had every right to protect her own mental health, Christopher Johnson tweeted: "She makes big money for her family playing tournaments that require players to do press conferences, win or lose. Should she quit pro tennis to avoid trauma? I hope not. She's awesome on court and delightful to speak with."
It remains to be seen how the French Open authorities respond to Osaka's stance. They can try imposing fines on her but the four-time grand slam champion probably wouldn't be too bothered. According to Forbes, Osaka was named the highest-paid woman athlete of all time. The magazine reported that she earned a record $37.4 million between 2019 and 2020. She beat Serena Williams' record by $1.4 million.