Naomi Osaka Facing Backlash After Taking Mental Health Break


Ava Paolucci, Staff Reporter, Sophomore

The media can be known for its uncomfortable questions and aggressive interviews, but these tactics can be particularly brutal in sports, where athletes are picked apart with inquiries right after their games. 

Naomi Osaka, world renowned women’s tennis player, is reportedly taking a “mental health break” from her sport.  She started by dropping out of the French Open in late May, and has recently announced she will not be participating in The Berlin Tournament and from Wimbledon.

This need to step away was spawned by nasty reporter comments at press conferences after matches.  Osaka first refused to attend the conferences stating, “I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences.  I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that.”  After being fined 15,000 dollars for her refusal to partake, she made the decision to drop out of the French Open.

She is now being widely criticized by some, and applauded by others, spurring a debate about what should or shouldn’t be expected of athletes  in the wake of matches or high pressure situations.  A discussion about mental health and how it should be factored into interviews have spawned a wide range of responses. Athletes across all sports have weighed in, showing their support of Osaka’s choice. 

Stephen Curry tweeted “You shouldn’t ever have to make a decision like this – but so impressive taking the high road when the powers that be don’t protect their own.  Major Respect.”

Tennis great Martina Navratilova tweeted, “As athletes we are taught to take care of our body, and perhaps the mental & emotional aspect gets short shrift. This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference. Good luck Naomi- we are all pulling for you!”

Predictably, members of the press were not as supportive. Criticism ranged from Piers Morgan calling her decision  “petulant” while Telegraph reporter Oliver Brown called Osaka’s actions “diva behavior.”

Another Tennis legend, Billi Jean King, seemed to walk the tightrope on the issue, commenting, “The media still play an important role in telling our story. There is no question that the media needs to respect certain boundaries. But at the end of the day it is important that we respect each other and we are in this together.”

Tennis officials from several countries feel it would be unfair to other players if one person is allowed to opt out of interviews.  They feel the notoriously harsh questions are part of being famous and playing tennis at a professional level, claiming it’s an occupational hazard.

Osaka’s dropping out of the French, Berlin and Wimbledon Tournaments has cast a spotlight on the pressure placed on athletes, and whether their participation in press conferences ought to be mandatory or by choice. Osaka, at age 23, is in the international spotlight every time she takes to the courts. Many are questioning whether it is fair, after the physical and emotional exhaustion of a grueling ninety minute tennis match, anyone is in a position to then face the scrutiny of the press. Moreover, why shouldn’t athletes have time to decompress, collect their thoughts. or just relax first.