Tennis phenom Naomi Osaka has dropped out of the French Open only a few days after making a public announcement via social media that she would not entertain questions from the press prior to and during the prestigious tennis tournament. Osaka is at odds with the Women’s Tennis Association and had been threatened with expulsion from the upcoming Grand Slam tournament event for her refusal to participate in press conferences after her matches. Osaka explained that pressure from the press is distracting and negatively impacts her game and her ability to perform with confidence.
“Never before has such a consequential star exited an event as big as the French Open over something that nearly every top tennis player has said in recent days is as much a part of being on the tour as lengthy travel schedules,” the New York Times reports.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with the issue, this whole drama started last week when Naomi Osaka posted on social media that she wouldn’t be speaking to the press during the French Open because she believes it can harm the mental health of athletes, particularly when they have to answer insensitive questions fresh off of a loss.
“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health, and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” she wrote. “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.
“I’ve watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room and I know you have as well,” she continued. “I believe that whole situation is kicking a person while [they’re] down and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.”
Like in many sports, professional tennis players are required to attend press conferences lest they be fined for neglecting that part of the job.
Naomi Osaka — who is now the highest-paid female athlete in the world — said she would rather pay the fine than sacrifice her mental health by forcing herself to speak to the press.
“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,” she wrote.
According to the Times, WTA Tour officials responded to Osaka’s message on Friday saying that it welcomed dialogue with her about the mental health of tennis players while maintaining that “professional athletes have a responsibility to their sport and their fans to speak to the media surrounding their competition, allowing them the opportunity to share their perspective and tell their story.”
Osaka explained that she’s been battling depression and anxiety for years and wants the focus to be on the game and not cause any distractions.
From Naomi Osaka:
Hey everyone, this isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago. I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris.
I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. More importantly, I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly.
The truth is I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that.
Anyone that knows me knows I am introverted, and anyone that has seen me at tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety.
Though the tennis press has always been kind to me (and I wanna apologize to all the cool journalists who I may have hurt), I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media.