In an essay for Time magazine published Thursday, tennis pro Naomi Osaka elaborated on why she withdrew from May’s French Open while continuing to advocate for her own mental health.
Prior to the event, Osaka announced that she wasn’t doing post-match press in order to maintain her mental health. After obtaining a $15,000 fine for not participating in media requirements, she withdrew from the remainder of the tournament.
She elected to skip the press conferences “to exercise self-care and preservation of my mental health.” “Athletes are humans,” she explained, adding that they should be given “the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions.”
She felt pressured to reveal her mental health issues due to doubt and judgment from the public.
“In my case, I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms — frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me,” Osaka said. “I do not wish that on anyone and hope that we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones. I also do not want to have to engage in a scrutiny of my personal medical history ever again. So I ask the press for some level of privacy and empathy next time we meet.”
While Osaka wrote that she has “always enjoyed an amazing relationship with the media,” she made it clear that while “I love the press; I do not love all press conferences.” She opined that the press conference format needs a “refresh” and could be made more enjoyable by adopting a more “peer to peer” format.
Osaka also reflected on all the added attention.
The athlete revealed that she is while she is “naturally introverted” and doesn’t “court the spotlight” she tries “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.”
“It has become apparent to me that literally everyone either suffers from issues related to their mental health or knows someone who does,” she said, revealing she has dealt with depression since 2018. “The number of messages I received from such a vast cross-section of people confirms that. I think we can almost universally agree that each of us is a human being and subject to feelings and emotions.”
Osaka also pulled out of Wimbledon, but said that she is “excited” to play in Tokyo, in front of Japanese fans, adding, “I hope I can make them proud.” On Thursday, organizers banned spectators from the Games due to a surge in COVID cases.
Read Naomi Osaka’s full essay here.