Serena Williams has had her share of difficult press conferences and shared support for Naomi Osaka’s mental health, but also stated that dealing with press only made her ‘stronger.’
Naomi Osaka shocked the tennis world by declaring a media blackout at the outset of the French Open, stating that mental health concerns prompted her decision to refuse the obligatory post-match press conferences at Roland Garros. Plenty of sports peers supported her decision to boycott what the 23-year-old deemed as a stressful component of competitive play at the French grand slam, including Golden State Warrior basketball star, Steph Curry. She has since decided to withdraw completely from the grand slam after the outcry of her decision.
However, Osaka’s decision to ignore her press obligations sparked a discussion about how an athlete could best deal with mental health concerns while continuing to compete on the biggest stage of her sport. Osaka was fined $15,000 for her first missed press conference, in line with article III of the Code of Conduct and a statement was issued from the grand slam tournaments on how they reached out to her regarding her mental health issues, but also threatened the highest paid female athlete with possible expulsion from future grand slam tournaments if her boycott continued.
Even the WTA issued a statement about the importance of the press obligation to fans of the sport.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King also issued a criticism of the three-time slam champion, noting the importance of the media for the growth of the sport and how the winner of the ‘battle of the exes’ worked in tandem with sports media to fight for pay parity. She noted the important role media plays in the growth of the sport.
Another pioneer of the women’s game, 23-single grand slam winner Serena Williams sympathized with what Osaka is going through, but also noted that tackling difficult press conferences has also helped her become the trailblazing sports icon that she is.
Since all that went down, the reigning Australian Open winner has since issued an apology via Twitter and withdrawn from the French Open completely. This will give Osaka the opportunity to work through her mental health issues and mitigate the misperceived image of the tennis player perhaps coming off as elitist and in the end was the only logical conclusion. In her tweet, she noted that she has had a positive relationship with many in the press.
Press obligations are an important component of the sport’s strength and are required by all those who participate in the sport. The press conferences also provide an opportunity for tennis stars to talk about their performance in their own words, rather than being interpreted by others. The platform has given Osaka an opportunity to provide insight about her results, but also a voice about important issues, such as Black Lives Matter, that affect our everyday lives.
Clay was never a strong suit of Naomi Osaka’s and perhaps foreseeing difficult questions regarding disappointing results at the French would have been painfully overwhelming while already dealing with debilitating depression.
Let us hope that Osaka takes the time heal and only comes back stronger. Her voice will be missed.