Japan’s Naomi Osaka has ruled out doing press conferences at the French Open after claiming the media ‘have no regard for athletes’ mental health’ – but has faced claims of ‘grandstanding’ and ‘hypocrisy’ over the step.
Osaka, the world’s second ranked women’s tennis player, said that her unwillingness to do press throughout the tournament was “nothing personal” to the leagues of media who are tasked with providing coverage at Roland Garros, adding that players being forced to discuss losses with reporters was little more than “kicking a person while they’re down“.
“I’m writing this to say I’m not going to do any press during Roland Garros,” Osaka, who has won four Grand Slam titles, announced on social media.
“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.
“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,” she added.
Her stance was underscored online by Venus Williams, who responded by saying, “Girl, do you. Your life is yours to live!”
However, tournament organizers don’t often take too kindly to its stars refusing to play nice with the media.
In January, American player Christian Harrison was issued with a fine of $3,000 by the ATP after he refused a mandatory on-court interview at the Delray Beach Open after a disagreement over mask wearing.
Some reports indicate that Osaka could be setting herself up for a fine of up to $20,000 for each no-show – and she added in her statement that she hopes the “considerable amount” she anticipates being fined will be used as a charitable donation towards mental health charities.
Osaka also tweeted an infamous video of former NFL player Marshawn Lynch repeatedly saying “I’m just here so I don’t get fined” at a press conference several years ago.
The 23-year-old player – who last year was named the world’s highest-paid female athlete with earnings of more than $37 million – has also used her platform to recognize social issues in the past, including highlighting the debate are police brutality and social inequality amid the wave of George Floyd protests last summer.
Osaka’s stance, though, hasn’t been universally accepted. Several detractors have pointed out that, like it or lump it, speaking to the media is just part of the deal when it comes to a career in professional sports – regardless if that comes after victory or defeat.
And in order to have the type of platform from which she can use her position to influence issues close to her heart, such as she did by her endorsement of the Floyd protests a year ago, playing the media game is an occasionally unfortunate but necessary obligation.
I sure most of us have aspects of our jobs that cause us more stress than others. Unfortunately most of us also don’t have the means to say fine I won’t do this part anymore because it stresses me out and ‘mental health’ comes first. Instead we compromise to find a win win
— Peter Kotso (@peterkotso) May 27, 2021
Are you also enjoying the “I’ll just pay my way out of something I don’t want to do, that’s part of my job, when heaps of others couldn’t afford to do the same” energy?The “when I encounter a difficult part of my job, as everyone else does, I just won’t do it” energy?
— Nataniel (Nate) (@heykraizelburd) May 26, 2021
I will not be participating in any conference calls going forward due to my mental health…….. yeah that probably won’t go over well. It’s my job as is it hers in a different forum
— CoolHipTim (@LaidBackTim) May 26, 2021
“I sure most of us have aspects of our jobs that cause us more stress than others,” one fan reacted on Twitter.
“Unfortunately most of us also don’t have the means to say fine I won’t do this part anymore because it stresses me out and ‘mental health’ comes first. Instead we compromise to find a win win.”
Another person wrote: “I will not be participating in any conference calls going forward due to my mental health. Yeah that probably won’t go over well. It’s my job as is it hers in a different forum.”
A third shot back at another commenter who wrote that they were impressed with Osaka’s energy in speaking out against media obligations.
“The ‘when I encounter a difficult part of my job, as everyone else does, I just won’t do it’ energy?” they wrote.
As others noted online, Osaka may have lost view of the fact that she is an entertainer – and that denying fans access to her thoughts after a high-profile match, regardless of in defeat or victory, only serves to increase the disconnect between fan and athlete.
Not to sound like a jerk, but when do athletes realize that they are entertainers? Their skills would mean nothing and they could not make a living doing it if there was not media coverage… does media ask dumb questions, for sure… but without the coverage the payout is zero
— Will Taylor (@will_taylor_12) May 26, 2021
I have thoughts re Osaka…Soooooo. My overall feeling is that since athletes have been positioning themselves as “entertainers” no different from musicians or movie stars, refusing press was inevitable. They perform. Once it’s over, they’ve fulfilled their public obligation.
— Full Dissident (@hbryant42) May 27, 2021
11) Is it a cop-out? Yes. Those press sessions are hardly rigorous, and accommodations can always be made for difficult circumstances. But what I heard today was part of a larger trend of control based on their wealth. It’s the future.
— Full Dissident (@hbryant42) May 27, 2021
“Not to sound like a jerk, but when do athletes realize that they are entertainers?” another noted online.
“Since athletes have been positioning themselves as ‘entertainers’ no different from musicians or movie stars, refusing press was inevitable. They perform. Once it’s over, they’ve fulfilled their public obligation,” argued another.
“She could just do the press & donate the money she can afford to pay in fines – MOST CAN’T AFFORD IT – to mental health charities,” wrote another.
“This is ridiculous grand-standing. Why doesn’t she fight for ALL PLAYERS like #PTPA are trying to do? This should be a union issue not a personal one.”
Elsewhere, former Australian tennis star Sam Groth said Osaka’s stance “reeks of hypocrisy” considering the media benefits she enjoys.
She could just do the press & donate the money she can afford to pay in fines -MOST CAN’T AFFORD IT- to mental health charities. This is ridiculous grand-standing. Why doesn’t she fight for ALL PLAYERS like #PTPA are trying to do? This should be a union issue not a personal one.
(@JANE79591745) May 26, 2021