A few days ago, 4-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka took to social media to declare that she won’t be attending post-match press conferences at the ongoing French Open because of mental health issues.
She said that the questions asked by the journalists can often be repetitive and bring doubt into the players’ minds – and that in order to protect her mental health, she has decided not to “do any press during Roland Garros”.
She futher threw light on the matter and added:
If the organisations 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.
With that, she accepted the fine she knew she’d inevitably be levied with, while acknowledging that her decision isn’t a personal remark on the journalists, with whom she shares a “friendly relationship”.
Now, this did not go down well with the Grand Slam authorities and they issued a joint press release, saying that while players’ mental health is paramount, a fine of $15,000 will be levied on Osaka, for not following rules that are equal for all participating athletes.
The press release also stated that attempts had been made to reach out to Osaka but she failed to make any kind of acknowledgement.
Statement from Grand Slam tournaments regarding Naomi Osaka.#RolandGarros— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) May 30, 2021
Following this, Osaka deleted her posts from her social media accounts, but did post that she will be bowing out of the tournament because she wanted everyone’s focus to go back to the tournament instead of her stand.
So clearly, a lot went down in a span of a few days, but what stands out is the fact that Osaka took a decision and did not back down under pressure. She has been getting a lot of love and appreciation for the same.
Think of how the media treats women who speak about their mental health. From Naomi Osaka to Meghan Markle, from Princess Diana to Amy Winehouse, from reality TV stars to royalty. The women change, the will to humiliate doesn’t. It is deeply rotten, outdated and needing change.— Matt Haig (@matthaig1) June 1, 2021
“I feel for Naomi, and I wish I could give her a hug because I’ve been in those situations,” said Serena Williams. “You have to let her handle it the way she wants to in the best way she can.” https://t.co/fLtoqIvGDf— The New York Times (@nytimes) June 1, 2021
Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open, saying she's stepping away to focus on her mental health.— Nia K. Phillips (@Nia_Official) June 1, 2021
My story from @NewDay this morning with what Osaka had to say and messages from other top athletes offering their support. pic.twitter.com/7fkgXFgEaV
“It’s ok to not be ok & let’s talk about mental health” except if you are a 23 yr old tennis player, in that case lets hound you until you have to leave what is your workplace #NaomiOsaka— Dr Sharon Lambert (@sharonlambert0) June 1, 2021
Great response from Serena Williams over Naomi Osaka ❤️ pic.twitter.com/iAa9CWHZRr— Serena Williams is GOAT (@Mapulamoshe) June 1, 2021
This is way more than about tennis. It’s about ‘mental health.’ All she did was bravely express her battle with depression and facing the media. WTA wasn’t ready to handle it. She needed help. She’s a Grand Slam winner. Courageous. @naomiosaka pic.twitter.com/zXzMVcp2g5— silverprincess💛 (@marsha_vivinate) June 1, 2021
We live in a truly messed up world. No penalty for politicians if they decline press interviews to scrutinise policy decisions that directly affect people’s lives but yeah penalise tennis players for not wishing to do post match press conferences! #NaomiOsaka— 🇺🇸American🇺🇸🚴🇺🇸🏇🇺🇸⛷️🌎🥑 (@usambovu) June 1, 2021
Would they be threatening to suspend her if she had to withdraw because of a blown achilles? COVID? These are the kinds of things that perpetuate stigma against #mentalhealth I stand with #NaomiOsaka https://t.co/0pCokbRIDi— Katie Leslie (@katieliz28) June 1, 2021
An incredibly talented athlete has had no choice but to withdraw from a top tournament because she made a personal choice to stay away from media to protect her own mental health. Let’s just read that again. I’m not a big tennis fan, but I am now a big #NaomiOsaka fan 👏🏽💪🏽 https://t.co/kj12BbBtE5— Jamie T (@JaminiThakrar) June 1, 2021
Congratulations to you #NaomiOsaka for valuing your peace above the paper 💵 https://t.co/HDyV91uxVO— Andrea Roberts (@msdrearoberts) June 1, 2021
This is a very important topic of discussion, and an issue for all workplaces to consider. If your employee/participant comes out and says they can’t do something because of troubles related to mental health, you try your best to fix the problem, especially when the problem has been in existence, very evidently, for years or centuries.
Also, ‘here is $15,000 fine, now please tell us what your issue is, we will try to solve it’ is not how you have a dialogue with someone.