ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith spoke frankly on Tuesday’s “First Take,” describing his own mental health battles while discussing tennis sensation Naomi Osaka’s decision to abstain from press conferences on mental health grounds. He copped to being “devastatingly depressed” and opened up about his time in therapy.
Ultimately, though, he believes athletes should be required to answer questions from the media.
While he conceded professional players know what they “signed up for” and “the media is what enables the sport to be promoted and the promotion of the sport is what generates the revenue,” he said he understood Osaka’s unease with publicity: “That doesn’t mean that we shred our humanity and ignore the profound impact that mental health issues have and exist with all of us. You can’t ignore that,” he said.
Smith said Tuesday was the four-year anniversary of his mother’s death, so he wasn’t particularly keen to be on television either.
“I’m here today with y’all. I don’t want to be here today. Today is June 1. Today marks the fourth year that my mother died. I do not want to be here but I have a job,” the host said. “I signed up and the NBA playoffs are going on and people expect to hear from me and if I’m going to call in from work, it’s because I need to be sick. It’s because I need to deal with whatever it is I have to deal with or whatever but I don’t want to be here today.”
He applauded Osaka’s honesty and her decision to explain why she wouldn’t do press – and her subsequent decision to pull out of the French Open – rather than “snub her nose at the media.”
“That’s why I think it’s incredibly important that we support her and we support the millions upon millions of people who go through what she’s going through right now,” Smith said. “Because anxiety wasn’t my issue, but of course I’ve been devastatingly depressed and I was in therapy for three years – three years – because that’s how devastated I have been. I’ll never get over it. I’ll never be the same but acknowledging what my issue was and going to seek help helped me to be able to come on national television and articulate positions like this because before, I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand it.”