Naomi Osaka is the number 2 ranked tennis player in the world. She’s also only 23 years old. And, despite what French Open officials expected, she made a statement that she wouldn’t attend a single press conference during the tournament.
Many may scoff at this statement. There’s a level of expectation that comes with being a professional athlete, and media requirements are a piece of that puzzle. But, while there are those saying she is dropping the ball, or making it all about her, that’s not what I want to focus on.
Naomi Osaka is right.
How do I know that? Because her reasoning is attributed to her own mental health. There is not a single other person on this planet that can truly know or understand what it means to be Naomi Osaka. How many people who are blasting her for her comments about skipping pressers also blasted her for speaking out about Black Lives Matter instead of talking about her game? I truly don’t know the answer to that, but I bet there’s some crossover.
This isn’t just a game. It’s a job. A livelihood. What is it that you do for work? How comfortable would you be being put under a microscope with every move you make? Sure, in a way we all probably have to deal with that, to a certain extent. But now imagine having to answer for every move you make as it happens. You just made a huge mistake, and instead of being able to fix it, or move on, you’re grilled by people. People who are going to plaster your face and quotes, made in the heat of a particular moment, across their outlets. And then the public are meant to judge them based on that.
That’s a no from me, dawg. But that’s what Osaka, and many other athletes are up against. With no check-in on their mental health, or their capacity to be there. Not everyone is Marshawn Lynch. We judge athletes on their coolness under pressure. But that pressure isn’t just how they perform. It’s how they’re perceived. How their words are taken out of context. And how their entire professional career is there on a platter for anyone willing to consume it.
Then she made the responsible decision.
Naomi Osaka, an adult person who has been upfront about her mental health, decided to walk away from the tournament because she was an unwelcome distraction. Could she have worded her initial statement more effectively? Maybe. But when the French Open made a statement about her not showing up to the first press conference, they proved they don’t get it.
Take a look at these two statements, and tell me if they make sense to you.
“Naomi Osaka today chose not to honour her contractual media obligations. The Roland-Garros referee has therefore issued her a $15,000 fine, in keeping with article III H. of the Code of Conduct.”
“The mental health of players competing in our tournaments and on the Tours is of the utmost importance to the Grand Slams.“
I copied and pasted that directly from the link above. If mental health was of the utmost importance, they’d find a way to handle the situation in a way that doesn’t result in fining someone $15,000 for being up front about her mental health, and the effect the media obligations have on it.
While I applaud Osaka for her withdrawal statement…
…all it does is prove that we care more about the product than the patient. She essentially had to apologize to people for potentially hurting them because what she said was about how those same people had contributed to hurt in her.
If this situation can’t well and truly kick start an open and honest conversation, what will? Athletes are not pawns. They are people. And we need to treat them like it.
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