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Media, Mental Health, and Why Naomi Osaka Took a Step Back

tennis, athlete
IgorTishenko on Deposit Photos

Naomi Osaka is one of the biggest stars in the tennis world since Venus and Serena Williams. She is the first Asian player to hold the number one rank in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). And she has won four Grand Slam titles in her short career and is the reigning champion of the U.S. Open and the Australian Open. So, why did she back out of the French Open? The issue comes from the media and mental health.

Osaka skipped media obligations.

After her first win at the French Open, Osaka was fined $15,000 for missing her mandatory media availability and was threatened with disqualification if she continued to avoid media obligations. Osaka already had stated that she would decrease her press in the coming weeks to protect her mental health. After being fined, she decided to withdraw from the French Open. 

Mental health concerns

What’s the big deal? Why does she even need to talk to the media? And should the media be what’s preventing the number one ranked women’s tennis player from participating in the French Open? Osaka is trying to keep sane in the limelight, and the media is pressuring her into interviews and fielding questions daily. Many people believe athletes should have room to opt-out of mandatory media availability if they don’t feel mentally equipped to handle it.

Osaka offered that she “would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly. The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018, and I have had a really hard time coping with that.” 

It’s in the contract.

But to play devil’s advocate, all women in the WTA are subject to mandatory media availability in their contracts. They make a lot of money, and it is only a few minutes in front of the camera. If required media availability is in her contract, she should view it as part of the job. 

Athletes and media have been fighting about mandatory availabilities for years now. The issue famously came about when former NFL superstar Marshawn Lynch only answered, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” for an entire interview.

Is there a happy medium?

Something has got to give in this situation. The mental health of these athletes should be seriously considered, and the media shouldn’t get in the way of allowing superstars to play in their respective sports. But how do we make sure we get proper coverage of these massive sporting events? There has to be a happy medium so that both sides can do their jobs. 

What do you think about Naomi Osaka’s decision?

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