‘Give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny’: Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka created quite a stir when she withdrew from French Open this year. The decision was taken after she refused to participate in in the post-match press conferences. The tennis player recently wrote an essay for The Times where she elaborated on the incident, stating that the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle, among others, backed her decision to prioritise mental health.

“This was never about the press, but rather the traditional format of the press conference. I’ll say it again for those at the back: I love the press; I do not love all press conferences,” she wrote in the essay titled ‘It’s OK Not to Be OK’. 

“However, in my opinion (and I want to say that this is just my opinion and not that of every tennis player on tour), the press-conference format itself is out of date and in great need of a refresh. I believe that we can make it better, more interesting and more enjoyable for each side. Less subject vs. object; more peer to peer,” she continued making her case against press conferences.

The athlete also drew attention to the fact that in any other profession such a break wouldn’t have been this frowned upon. “In any other line of work, you would be forgiven for taking a personal day here and there, so long as it’s not habitual. You wouldn’t have to divulge your most personal symptoms to your employer; there would likely be HR measures protecting at least some level of privacy.”

“Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions,” she wrote.

She concluded it by sharing names of those who helped her during such turbulent times. “Michelle Obama, Michael Phelps, Steph Curry, Novak Djokovic, Meghan Markle, to name a few.”

On May 31, she put out a statement making her decision to withdraw from the French Open known. Prior to this, she was fined USD 15,000 for skipping press conference post her first-round win.

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