These days, it seems like everybody has an opinion on everything — it’s just the default. But if you’re conflicted when it comes to Naomi Osaka’s decision to withdraw from the French Open, that’s okay. Join the party.
Osaka was fined $15,000 on May 30 by the four Grand Slam tournaments for not speaking with the media after her first-round win and announced her decision to “take some time away from the court” on Twitter the next day.
“I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that,” Osaka tweeted, explaining that she gets anxious before speaking to the media. “Here in Paris, I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences.”
Osaka’s decision received a great deal of support and criticism. Michael Phelps told CNN that he was “so happy” when he first saw the tweet. Race car driver Lewis Hamilton said “this takes a lot of courage to do.”
It’s okay to be conflicted about Osaka’s decision. I am.
On the one hand, acknowledging and respecting mental health should always be a top priority, especially for an international superstar so young. Anyone who doesn’t believe questions from reporters can sow doubt and anxiety in an athlete’s head hasn’t been in a press conference or media scrum.
Here’s some questions Osaka was asked in 2019 after a loss: “When you play someone who you’ve lost to so recently, how hard is it not to have that in your head?” Another: “Do you think because you’re younger, it can be difficult to be consistent at this age?”
That’s not to say those aren’t good questions — they probe at emotions and information that can give a window into an athlete’s mindset. But immediately after a heart-shattering loss, it’s easy to see how those questions can undermine the positive mindset an athlete tries to maintain.
At the same time, reporters do have a responsibility and a job. Most reporters aren’t out for blood or embarrassing quotes. From first hand experience, I can’t explain how rotten I feel when interviewing a coach or a player after a big loss. You try to be kind, careful with your wording and as brief as possible.
Any reporter with an ounce of empathy makes their best attempt at respecting the athlete, but it’s not always possible.
That’s why Osaka’s decision is so conflicting. Most reporters are just doing their jobs, as is Osaka by protecting her own mental health. And there are bad apples in the group — just look at some of the questions she’s been asked about her ethnicity.
“Your last name is Osaka, you were born in Osaka, which is a bit strange because your father is a Hatian,” one reporter asked in 2018. “So, how come that your last name is the same name of the city, but your father — you should have the last name of your father.”
Osaka’s decision should serve as a wake-up call to sports reporters that can sometimes forget the person under the uniform or behind the mic. It should be a time for dialogue between sports officials, athletes and media organizations about the best way to protect players while also fulfilling the responsibility of speaking with the media.
And while this might be conflicting, it’s not a time to criticize Osaka. She’s doing what is best for her mental health, which is commendable in any instance.
Unbiased, Unfiltered. WBOB's Original Reads feature our brightest and boldest personalities, offering their two-cents on the goings on of news, sports, politics, entertainment, and business. -- Are our opinions always PC? Nope. Are they always perfect? Nah. But, are they always 100% authentic? Absolutely!