Mental health has become a more common topic over the past decade, and most people agree that it's important to take care of one's mental state. However, when mental health and sports meet, it can be a cataclysmic event. We discovered this as Naomi Osaka took on the leaders of the Grand Slam tournaments, aka her bosses.
Naomi Osaka is the No.2 ranked tennis player in the world with four Grand Slam championships under her belt. The issue between Osaka and tournament officials began when she announced that she would not be participating in the post-match conferences of the French Open. Osaka's reasoning was that the often negative questions of the press take a toll on her mental health. And when she followed through with her statement, the Grand Slam officials fined her a whopping $15,000 and threatened to disqualify her in the French Open. Why the hefty punishment? Tournaments like the French Open gain most of their revenue from post-match conferences and interviews with the players, so her refusal to speak to the public could cost them.
And so the internet was torn. One the one hand, the Grand Slam leaders are running a business and therefore, must protect their investment. On the other hand, Naomi Osaka was absolutely within her right to take time away to ensure her mental wellbeing.
Now that Osaka has withdrawn from the French Open, she has brought to light the issues of gossipy journalism and its effect on players' mental health. For example, the endless cycle of tennis journalists attacking the lives and reputations of female tennis players, especially female players of colour like Osaka.
Professional tennis, traditionally, has been insular and exclusive. Socio-economic barriers make breaking into tennis often too difficult for people of colour making it a sport for affluent, predominantly white male athletes. A lot of tennis journalists subscribe to the unprogressive belief of a "traditional" tennis, hence some of the commentary that Osaka and others players have had to deal with.
Oftentimes, the press plays on or amplifies blatant homophobic, sexist, and racist attacks without regard for the mental health of players.
Osaka’s withdrawal and the positive messages she received has captured minds around the globe. Now attention is being paid to the way Osaka was treated by the Grand Slam officials as well as the media. Hopefully, it will be the beginning of action-able change within the sport of tennis.
In the other news, a few days after Osaka’s withdrawal, Roger Federer withdrew from the tournament, citing health complications. Neither the French Open Federation nor the media gave him any pushback or demanded more information about his health. Federer said he needed to listen to his body. And no one disagreed with him.