For the love of “sports”, scratch that! For The “Love” of THE SHOW!! An apt description of the today’s sporting world. Sports and Mental Health – A talk long overdue!
So over the couple of days, headlines have been screaming with Naomi Osaka taking centre stage.
In what has been perceived as a “rude” shock of events (in the ever possessive sports world used to holding the reigns and calling the dictates, the unspoken rule summing up to “showing up” for the cameras whether or not all hell breaks loose in your world – as long as a cheering crowd is expected with shiny trophies eagerly awaiting being handed out to deserving awardees, the show must go on – permit my digression) World no.2, the highest paid female athlete in the world, Naomi Osaka, (worthy of note – aged 23 by the way) last week announced her decision not to partake in the mandatory press conferences at the French Open, sighting 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,” Osaka 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… 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 most of them,” Osaka wrote. “However, if the organizations think 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. I hope the considerable amount that I get fined for this will go towards a mental health charity.”
In a brutal move, the Japanese-Haitian tennis champ got slapped with a fine of $15,000 by Rémy Azemar, the French Open Tournament Referee, followed with even more stern warnings of stronger penalities including Grand Slam suspensions. Worse still, Roland Garros who announced the decision in a statement also took a jibe at her on Twitter, referencing other athletes Rafael Nadal, Kei Nishikori, Aryna Sabalenka and Coco Gauff engaging in media duties with the caption: “They understood the assignment.” The tweet has since been deleted.
As expected, this ushered at a time when talks on mental health take priority at our every turn, rubbed off wrongly. Top personalities in the world of sports and beyond wasted no time calling out the federation, quite rightly for their lack of sensitivity.
Coming on the heels of the French Open withdrawal, the tennis pro also withdrew from the WTA 5000 Tournament in Berlin on Monday, June 7, thereby sparking speculation of her complete absence at the Wimbledon tournament.
In her withdrawal statement, the four-time grand slam champion said she has suffered from “long bouts of depression” since the 2018 US Open final where she defeated Serena Williams to win her first grand slam title.
“Anyone that knows me knows I’m introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety,” Osaka wrote.
Osaka concluding her statement also added she suffers “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking with the media. “So here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self‑care and skip the press conferences. I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that,” she wrote.
Brands such as Nike, Mastercard, Sweetgreen and Nissin Foods voiced their support for the tennis star as well as celebrities including
Usian Bolt, Venus Williams, Russell Wilson, Lewis Hamilton, Will Smith Coco Guaff, Martina Navratilova, Sanaa Lathan, Ava DuVernay, Jada Pinkett Smith, Viola Davis amongst others.
So here’s the thing sports bodies and the entertainment worlds in general often forget – Fact check; being in the spotlight might come with all the glitz and glam, BUT, with it comes MA…JOR draining as well! Automatically, you’re placed on some unrealistic pedestal and vulnerable to all forms of pressure, scrutiny and harrasment which tends to rub off on everyone regardless of how strong in personality. Yet the authorities are quick to hand out straight faced press conferences when athletes bow to pressure sometimes doing drugs and what have you. No matter the passion or personality trait, we all need trip away from it all at some point.
Zoom into the controversy surrounding the sports world as a result of Osaka daring to stand up for self; Laws exists, yes we get it, but so also the opportunity to draw out the board and adjust when necessary in accordance to the times! It’s not just about a body’s reputation, it’s about her people – the people who give the body its oh so revered name. It’s about folks getting work done! Real people putting themselves out there to ensure their is a sport to thrill, entertain and yes in whole, LOVE.
How did we get here – a point where the player doesn’t matter as much as the damn show? A little sensitivity could have been adopted. A little humanity brought into the equation, but no, egos were bruised and the queen had to pull out from it all for her own WELL-BEING.
So yes, there’s the reminder we so desperately needed; Real life exists outside the stage, and no, glamour in the spotlight is no compensation. Beyond aww worthy performances and fancy speeches, let’s remember it all fades away for our stars when the curtains draw close. Our champs are human too, with real life issues and challenges. They deserve to live full productive, fulfilling, happy lives just as we do.
Take home life lesson?
You are enough. With or without the appraisal, approvals and the heady deafening standing ovation. When it’s time to take a breather, bow out, for you. For others. PRIORITIZE #SelfCare #MentalHealth #SetBoundaries #NeverSubjectYourselfToUnhealthyDemands #StayTrueToYou
Naomi Osaka, we applaud your strength of character, courage and boldness and yes, we are totally rooting for you! A QUEEN! Here’s to a real one. Salute!