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How This Athlete is Reminding Us to Prioritize Mental Health

Mental health: the struggle between nihilism and living fruitfully – our ability to handle the stresses of everyday life and contribute to our society.

Although it’s an overwhelming facet of our behavior and perception, its lack of ability to be physically seen makes it all that more difficult to cope with.

Inevitably, we all experience it, including Naomi Osaka. This Japanese-American is a professional tennis player who has been ranked No. 1 by the Women’s Tennis Association and four-time Grand Slam singles champion. She’s the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in the singles.

When the 23-year-old said that she would not be partaking in any news conferences during the French Open on account of her mental health, the two-time U.S. Open champion was fined $15,000 and faced potential expulsion from the tournament altogether for breaking her contract.  

A day later, the athlete took matters into her own hands. Osaka withdrew from the Grand Slam on accounts of her psychological wellbeing.

“I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media. I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can,”

She explained that she was willing to accept the fines in order to maintain her mental health but “hopes the considerable amount that I get fined for this will go toward a mental health charity.”

Big names in and out of her field applauded her stance, including the two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry. He tweeted: 

“[Osaka] shouldn’t ever have to make a decision like this — but so damn impressive taking the high road when the powers that be don’t protect their own. Major respect.” 


Naomi Osaka playing tennis
Photo by Andrew Henkelman distributed under a CC-BY-SA-4.0 license

The controversy has opened up a dialogue about the regard for athletes’ psychological well-being and how many are mistakenly seen as entertainment figures, instead of human beings who have a life outside of their athletic career. One of Osaka’s first statements about the issue touched on this, stating:

“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one.”

She describes answering questions just moments after taking a serious loss in her career to kicking a person while they’re down.

“I’ve watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room and I know you have as well.”

Osaka is the epitome of a successful woman of our era – her stance in defense of mental health included. She serves as an example of what it looks like to overcome the oppression as a woman of color, and still find prosperity. As a woman existing and thriving in the male-dominated world of athletics, this breed of perseverance is one worth applauding.

Despite initial backlash, a large majority of the public recognized the incredible value of prioritizing mental health and allowed this situation to serve as a reminder of the blatant dehumanization of athletes. Although there is still much work to be done, stories like that of Naomi Osaka serve as a shining example of the positive direction our worldview is moving in as a society.

Our job as the next generation of not just athletic spectators, but also teachers, parents and leaders, is to remember people like Osaka.

It’s unequivocally essential that we prioritize the mental health of those around us, especially those with lives that are often publicized and exploited by industries like sports and entertainment.

These cultural trailblazers defy predetermined societal structures and subject themselves to controversy and criticism to build a more compassionate world for generations to come.

 

Born and raised in South Florida, Emily Seggio is a first-generation Cuban-American majoring in the Business track of Human Communications. She published her first book at the age of seventeen entitled "Why We Play With Fire" and sold copies internationally. On her days off, you'll find her enveloped in a perception-altering memoir, snuggling with her kitten, Copper, or listening to Hozier songs while painting with watercolors. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll catch her on a late-night drive, seeking an adventure worth writing about. Looking for more? Check out her website: www.emilyseggio.com
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