Here we go again… less than a month following the conclusion of Mental Health Awareness Week, the women’s World Tennis Rankings second seed finds there is no other alternative than to drop out of a Grand Slam competition, so to protect her own mental wellbeing – and even THAT was met with scrutiny from the media; no prizes for guessing who the villain is there.
When Naomi Osaka convincingly triumphed in her first ever major competition final in 2018, overcoming the greatest women’s tennis player of all time, Serena Williams, not a single spectator could have predicted the victor would be in clear discomfort and distress after winning – crying with her visor covering her face. The joy that should follow after winning a major sports tournament, notably against a childhood idol, was snatched from Osaka as the watching crowd booed in protest during the trophy presentation, directed towards the chair umpire as a result of alleged sexism raised by Williams during the match in a now famous outburst.
It must have been crushing for Osaka, who was just 21 years old at the time. To feel that her greatest achievement to date was completed illegitimately and at the expense of her sporting hero. To make matters worse this same moment was now available for the media and the world to see and pass judgment on.
In Osaka’s statement announcing her withdrawal from the French Open, she referenced this moment: “The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that,”.
The decision to officially pull out of the tournament followed Osaka’s earlier statement just six days before today’s, where she announced she wouldn’t be speaking to the press, detailed on her social media channels: “I’m writing this to say I’m not going to do any press during Roland Garros… 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 are 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.”
Osaka is clearly displaying signs of social anxiety, explaining that everyone who knows her knows she’s “introverted” and those that see her at tournaments will see the Japanese-born with headphones on “as that helps dull my social anxiety”. Her decisions seem more and more understandable with increased knowledge of her mannerisms and even many of her social media posts.
As a consequence of not taking part in her press duties, Osaka was fined $15’000 in addition to the widely reported threat of a tournament expulsion. She subsequently withdrew from the competition which caused quite a stir.
One man – who always seems to find himself at the forefront of controversy and scandal is Piers Morgan, who wrote a piece for the Daily Mail which he advertised on twitter:
It’s not up to anybody to tell somebody else that they are or aren’t suffering with their mental health and the notion that these professional athletes ‘owe us’ anything, in particular sacrificing their own mental health, is frankly dangerous and selfish. And in this case, Morgan is perpetuating the very same thing he’s claiming Osaka is “world sports most petulant little madam” for.
For some, social anxiety can be the reason that they won’t fulfil a task such as going to the shops, or even attending a function with their friends. For others, it’s not answering their phone when somebody calls or not wanting to check their bank balance. The point being that everyone is different and struggles with different aspects of life. So it’s time we, as fans and the media, recognise and support an individual who doesn’t currently feel comfortable answering often difficult self-reflecting questions on live television for the whole world to see, regardless of athlete stature or not.
We stand with Naomi Osaka, and we know that the world isn’t ready for when she’s back to full fitness and no doubt adding to her major tournament victories.