Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open (tennis) after winning her first match on May 30th. Are you familiar with her? At the 2020 US Open Osaka wore the name of a black life taken by racism on her face mask, a different name for each match, with no shortage of names to choose from, a sad truth. Osaka made the announcement that she would not be meeting with the press during the French Open so she might better care for her mental health. She won her first match and was then fined $15,000. Attendance at media scrums is mandatory. Osaka apologized and withdrew from the tournament so as not to create a distraction for the other players.
If you google some of these press events you will find a plethora of ignorance and stupidity from the media, questions aimed at demeaning, of kicking players when they’re down. Others simply cross the line. Simona Halep was asked if her breast reduction “served her on the court or outside”, whatever that was supposed to mean. Nadal was asked if his then recent marriage affected his form on the court, his marriage to his girlfriend of fourteen years, I might add. “Honestly, are you asking me this?” was Nadal’s response. I like to imagine these athletes using Andy Roddick’s game winning response when asked a stupid question. “I think you should retire.” That was gold, Jerry, gold, to borrow a Seinfeld line.
This seems like legalized bullying to me. They’re professional athletes, you might say, and should suck it up. Why? What do viewers learn from these media events? Why did you lose today? It turns out I ended up with fewer points than the winner. Who saw that coming? Most media interviews have some element of a sucker punch in it. When Kerri Einarson won the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Bryan Mudryk asked her about her brother, her only sibling killed in 2006 in a snowmobile accident. Really?
I’ve read some of the responses re Osaka from other athletes. Most are supportive, but some like Martina Navratilova said it comes with the territory. I paraphrase, but that was the gist of it. Mental health never garners the attention it requires. Osaka didn’t say she was tired of the attending the media scrums or that she found them annoying. She cited her mental health and acknowledged she has struggled with depression for the last couple of years and is limping back toward good mental health and was trying to preserve that progress. No, no, no, unless you’re bleeding or unconscious you are required to sit in front of a microphone while those who have never swung a tennis racket get to challenge your performance.
I don’t know when we decided that our right to freedom of speech allows us to table any question, no matter how intentionally cruel and/or stupid. I don’t know when we decided it was okay to take photos of and invade the privacy of athletes and actors or anyone in public life. Does common sense ever come into play? Has common decency lost its foothold on our actions when gathering information that is none of our business?
Naomi Osaka struggles with mental health. She is an introvert who loves to play tennis and is very good at it. Does she not get to hold her hand up and say this is not good for my mental health at this moment, please let me step back until I am in a better place mentally to answer your intrusive and unkind questions. The good news is Osaka’s backers are supporting her. The Calm App is offering to pay the fines for tennis athletes who feel unable to attend press events after a match. This fine for Osaka is pocket change, but the principal of the matter is priceless. And if I hear one more person say It’s always been done this way, I may lose my own fragile hold on sanity. Why is the idea of changing how we do things so incomprehensible to many of us when change is exactly what is needed?