Whether you are a sports fan or not, everybody is talking about Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from The French Open, a tennis tournament in Paris.
The 23-year-old tennis player faced a wave of backlash and criticism for her withdrawal from the conference, citing mental health issues.
Osaka had only planned on attending the tournaments and skipping the conferences, but this changed when the tennis organizations did not support her decision of doing so.
Gilles Moreton – French tennis federation president, said her absence was a “phenomenal error” and was simply “not acceptable.”
This event ended with a $15,000 fine for the missed interview and several other issues. Statements claimed that if Naomi didn’t wish to cooperate with the press, the Grand Slam associations would have to implement heavier consequences.
Naomi Osaka decided to withdraw from the French Open to boycott the lack of respect for athletes’ mental health. Her withdrawal from such a profound tennis tournament received mixed reactions.
Many athletes and celebrities supported her brave decision, most notably, Michele Obama, Micheal Phelps, Steph Curry, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic.
While Naomi did garner a lot of supporters, there were public figures who criticized her sudden withdrawal. For example, Piers Morgan referred to her choice to take time off for the sake of her mental health as “diva behaviour”.
The most explosive reaction was probably from journalist Megyn Kelly who called Naomi out for being featured in a magazine while declining press conferences. In response, Naomi explained that shooting for the magazines happened a year before the release. This heated exchange ended with Naomi blocking Kelly and telling her that she could “do better.”
Naomi Osaka’s decision opened a discussion about the state of athletes’ mental health. Through this extensive debate, two significant aspects were highlighted:
- The unfair mental health standards placed on athletes
- The media’s toxicity and how it affects athletes
The Unfair Mental Health Standards for Athletes
We dehumanize athletes on an alarmingly regular basis. Rarely do we realize that they feel stress, pain, sadness and suffer from mental health conditions.
We have created this image as a society that athletes are superhumans and cannot be susceptible to the harsh realities of life. Thus, adhering spectators suddenly become jeering fiends.
Can you believe that this was Osaka’s first missed press conference in seven years? It’s hard to fathom that the expectations on athletes are so high that they don’t have the liberty of an occasional off-day. Osaka took to Twitter to suggest that athletes should be entitled to a small number of ‘sick days’ per year wherein they could excuse themselves from press commitments without having to disclose reasons.
The Media’s Toxicity and How it Affects Athletes
The media plays a significant role in the deteriorating mental health of athletes. The constant badgering into their personal lives and incredibly insulting comments and questions create an endless cycle of hate. The severity of such badgering has led to manifesting severe mental strains on the lives of these sportsmen/women.
These accounts show the impact media has on athletes:
• Former British cricketer Freddie Flintoff recounts forming an eating disorder due to the horrid body-shaming comments he received. The relentless slander led him to struggle with bulimia for 20 years.
• Micheal Phelps has dealt with depression and anxiety going as far as suicidal tendencies. He stated on The Today Show that this started after his fourth Olympics and after his introduction to fame.
• Lastly, legendary tennis player Serena Williams has also been a victim of the media. The player opened up about her body image issues, feeling like she was too strong and not fitting the conventional notion of a skinny girl. One might argue that these issues were bound to occur as reporters asked disrespectful questions like, “Are you intimidated by Maria Sharapova’s supermodel good looks?”
A Time for Change
Naomi Osaka isn’t the first athlete to feel stress and anxiety, but she is one of the few who genuinely speaks out about the issue and takes a stance for what she believes in. As a society, we need to do a better job of sticking up for athletes and recognizing that they, too, are human. The prioritization of mental health will enable athletes to reach greater heights, both professionally and individually.