Naomi Osaka is putting her mental health first and stepping away from all press obligations as she remains focused on her game ahead of the 2021 French Open.
The 23-year-old professional tennis star is protecting her mind the same way she does her body so that she stays in top form for the tournament also known as the Roland-Garros. In a statement released on both Instagram and Twitter, the No. 2-ranked player in the world details her reasons for skipping out on interviews leading up to and during the competition, which she attributes to a lack of “regard for athletes’ mental health.”
“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” she wrote. “We’re 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.”
The New York Times reports that “attending a news conference, regardless of the outcome of a match, is considered an obligation tennis players fulfill to promote their sport.” Osaka is aware that she will possibly face large fines due to missing her press commitments, but she’s not letting a dollar amount coerce her into what she describes as putting her mental health on the line.
“Me not doing press is nothing personal to the tournament and a couple journalists have interviewed me since I was young so I have a friendly relationship with them,” she continued. “However, if the organizations thinking that they can just keep saying ‘do press or you’re gonna be fined,’ and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation then I just gotta laugh.”
She closes with the hope that her fine money will be donated to a mental health charity.
Osaka followed her lengthy statement with two video clips she presents as demonstrating her point about reporters sowing seeds of doubt through their lines of questioning and athletes’ reluctance to participate in press conferences. The first was of then-14-year-old fellow women’s tennis player Venus Williams being interviewed by a reporter who asked her repeatedly about she was so confident in her playing abilities, only for her father, Richard Williams, to step in and demand that he stop the line of questioning that he felt could cause his daughter to harbor self-doubt.
The second is a clip from former NFL player Marshawn Lynch’s viral “I’m just here so I don’t get fined” interview moment, which Osaka presumably presented to emphasize the sometimes-fraught relationship between athletes and the media.
Williams, who opted out of press obligations in the French Open and Australian Open in 2016, was among those to voice their support of the athlete’s decision, commenting, “Girl, do you. Your life is yours to live!” on her post.
Fans also had Osaka’s back and applauded her for putting her health first.
“You job is to play! There shouldn’t be a fine. Glad you’re taking a stance!”
“We behind you 🖤”
“I’m so proud of you. The Williams sisters struggled and fought so much to see change and it is great to see you standing firmly on what they accomplished and pushing it to the next level.”
First-round matches at the 2021 French Open begin Sunday, May 30, in Paris.