Naomi Osaka, a professional Tennis player from Japan, has always been in news for her game. But this time, she is in news for doing something right and not being accepted for it. Well, that’s how the world treats you when you choose to stand for yourself and the community you represent.
Osaka was recently fined $15,000 for refusing to speak to media after winning her first round at the French Open against Romania’s Patricia Maria. The event happened in Paris on May 30th. She has been warned to face further serious consequences if she continues to deny facing the media.
On May 27, Osaka posted on her Twitter account stating that she won’t be doing press after the event at Roland Garros, Paris. She mentioned the issue of how people ignore athletes’ mental health and show no concern for it. She went on to share her personal experience of how these press events take a toll on the minds of the athletes.
She said, “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 clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room and I know you have as well. I believe that the whole situation is kicking a person while they’re down and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it. Me not doing the press is nothing personal to the tournament and a couple of journalists have interviewed me since I was young so I have a friendly relationship with most of them. However, if the organizations think 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. Anyways, I hope the considerable amount that I get fined for this will go towards a mental health charity.”
It is bizarre to see how mental health still lacks being a priority in the minds of people. I don’t think there can be anything more remorseful for humanity than to see a talented individual being “punished” for putting her mental health over media interactions.
Yes, press interactions are an important part of any global event. But, why is an individual susceptible to them against their own choice, against their mental health concerns?
Simply because mental health still has a long way to be seen and established as a real health concern. We still have a long road to cover to achieve manners where a person’s mental health concern makes us want to listen to them without passing any judgmental remarks.
The recent incident instigated waves on various social media platforms. While some people are blaming Osaka for avoiding something she is “obligated” to do, some are coming in support and applauding her for taking a stand on her mental wellness concerns.
While mental health is being prioritized in corporate workplaces and other work environments, it will take some more time to consider it important in sports. It is still a complicated and less talked about subject when it comes to sports.
As a professional athlete, a sportsperson is still expected to stay fit only physically and their mental health is not a concern yet. The recent incident is a perfect example of that.
The pandemic ignited many businesses to include an angle of mental wellness in their plan, many new businesses dedicated to mental health have risen successfully. But, mental health in sports is still wrapped within the chains of stigma and taboo. We still have to wait for a time when we will treat mental health issues as reflexively as we do to a broken arm or a sprained leg on the field.
Osaka has been preceded by many sportspeople who have spoken about their struggles when it comes to mental health. Yes, sports give you recognition, fame, and prosperity. But only if luxury could buy anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns. As I always say mental health is individual and you can never compare the state of one person to that of another.
Osaka’s tweet was a reaction to the French open officials declining her decision about skipping the press interaction and constantly warning her for a penalty and suspension.
Sport is a tough career to choose. As easy and enlightening it looks, international champions carry the weight of losing or winning in the name of their country. Talented individuals are taken away from their families at a young age and their teenage is spent in practices and tournaments. With adulthood comes more responsibility to sustain the names associated with them. All of this and many other personal, professional, and sometimes no reasons at all are responsible for the severe pressure they live through.
Mental health concerns can be mysterious. Sometimes the causes are unknown to the sufferers themselves. And people in sports live a difficult life. The press and the common people are quick to hail them on their victories and even quicker to knife out the losses on their faces.
I read this comment on Osaka’s Twitter post where a user mentioned Serena Williams. She pointed how Osaka is fair in her decision because she remembers Serena losing a match at the Australian Open and the press asking questions about her possible retirement. All of that triggered her so much that she ended up crying during the after-match media interaction.
This is how the press and their questions affect the mental health of people in limelight. We are quick to judge the other person irrespective of their circumstances. And, when you are a public personality, this judgment amplifies. It comes from any and everybody. All this takes a serious toll on an individual’s mental health irrespective of the position they are in.
Osaka later tweeted in response to the backlash she faced about being suspended, “anger is a lack of understanding. change makes people uncomfortable.” And, we couldn’t agree anymore to it.