Naomi Osaka: I should have been prepared for French Open aftermath

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Tennis star Naomi Osaka believes that she should have been more prepared for the aftermath of deciding to skip press conferences at the French Open.

“Lesson one: you can never please everyone. The world is as divided now as I can remember in my short 23 years. Issues that are so obvious to me at face value, like wearing a mask in a pandemic or kneeling to show support for anti-racism, are ferociously contested. I mean, wow.” the four-time Grand Slam winner wrote in an essay in Time Magazine. “So, when I said I needed to miss French Open press conferences to take care of myself mentally, I should have been prepared for what unfolded.”

After announcing her intention to skip French Open press conferences and following through after her first-round match, Osaka was hit with a $15,000 fine and faced backlash. This led to her withdrawing from Roland Garros for mental health reasons.

In the essay, titled “Naomi Osaka: ‘It’s O.K. Not to Be O.K,’” the 23-year-old writes about her mental health and anxiety that stems from participating in press conferences. She thinks the tennis association needs to do a better job of managing players’ mental health.

“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to say that this is just my opinion and not that of every tennis player on tour), the press-conference format itself is out of date and in great need of a refresh.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.” Osaka said.

One suggestion was allowing athletes to take a mental health break that would allow them to skip press conferences and not be faced with severe punishments for their actions.

Osaka, the No. 2-ranked women’s player in the world, hopes that by taking a stand and withdrawing from the French Open that she can set a new precedent for mental health, while erasing the stigma that mental health is not something easy to talk about.

“I always try to push myself to speak up for what I believe to be right, but that often comes at a cost of great anxiety. I feel uncomfortable being the spokesperson or face of athlete mental health as it’s still so new to me and I don’t have all the answers,” she wrote. “I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s O.K. to not be O.K., and it’s O.K. to talk about it. There are people who can help, and there is usually light at the end of any tunnel.”

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