I am at best a dabbler when it comes to paying attention to women's tennis. But I think whatever happens going forward with tennis, the current events with Naomi Osaka are worth talking about.
I want to say that while I'm about to share many, many thoughts and opinions, Osaka's choices are hers and hers alone. And the pro tennis circuit is of course balancing many competing priorities as well.
So, for those who don't know, Naomi Osaka announced ahead of the upcoming tournament that post-game press was honestly not helpful to her mental health during a tournament and as such she had decided to pay the fine for not doing it. Much hubbub ensued, including a now deleted tweet where the tournament itself implied she wasn't living up to her obligations. And so now she has stated that hey, she was not trying to be a tournament distraction, and she was not trying to say all journalists suck, and she was not trying to trivialize mental health, and instead she was simply going to withdraw from the tournament.
So, let's discuss.
One could argue that press is just a natural part of the business of many things. I know that's an argument I have sometimes made myself.
The thing is, it's honestly tiring. Not all of it of course. But I personally get bored of watching players who won demure over how lucky they were, players who lost try to explain that physics were not on their side, and so on. Sure, there are occasional moments of interest. But they are few and far between. And honestly this is why podcasts and other longform things that have the time and space to go deeper are often more interesting.
So let's talk about another reality. These interviews are easier for men. They are easier for white men especially. And they are easier for folks with little to no mental health issues. And they are easier when it's not a pandemic, but that's true of almost anything.
I'm not saying they are easy for anyone or even anyone male and white and without mental health issues. But any cursory look at sports press shows that male athletes get asked about technique and female athletes get asked about feelings. It's not the same.
And if you are part of any group that is underrepresented in professional sports, you get asked about that too. And if you admit to mental health concerns, you get asked about that also. It's a lot.
I haven't done the math on the fines to see if winning makes not doing press worth it. I suspect because the circuit requires a certain amount of tournament participation to maintain your ranking, it might be worth it if you have enough endorsements.
And of course, I don't begrudge anyone who says it's worth it for my mental health.
Osaka is coming into this choice with a lot of privilege. But I feel like some folks are focusing on that, and not on the idea that she, as a champion, is saying, hey here's a thing in place that makes this job exceedingly hard. Have we considered changing it? And honestly, that's what we want, right? For people to work their way up a ladder and say, okay, I have some thoughts on making things better.
I hope the tennis circuit is able to really listen even if no press at all is not a stance they are willing to accept.
The world is changing. Athletes all have social media and are able to communicate with viewers and fans directly if they choose. Obviously that option is also not equally safe for everyone's mental health. But it exists.
And I hope tennis and the press consider that.
I think the best thing we can do when presented with a boundary someone is trying to set for their own welfare is consider how best it can be accommodated. I would rather watch Osaka play tennis than not. So I hope those aren't the only choices.