Tennis phenom Naomi Osaka gave the world a masterclass in setting boundaries at work when she announced she would not do any press during the French Open, citing her “mental health.” Days later, giving far more grace than she has received, Osaka posted a statement to her Instagram account announcing her plan to withdraw from the tournament to “minimize” distractions.
“I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players, and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris,” Osaka wrote Sunday, effectively reclaiming her time, to paraphrase Rep. Maxine Waters‘ famous quote. “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.”
The move comes after a joint statement from professional tennis’ overseers threatened Osaka with additional penalties and possibly even an investigation and suspension for abstaining from media duties.
Taking space during National Mental Health Awareness Month, the 23-year-old Osaka posted last week that she would skip media during the French Open.
After a $15,000 fine and a petty (now deleted) tweet from an official, Osaka decided she would step back from the court entirely.
Openly addressing her battle with depression since 2018, Osaka explained that she is an introvert who does not like speaking in public. The privilege to compete on the international stage does not mean Osaka, or any other player, surrenders their humanity or dignity.
Both an example of strength and vulnerability, Osaka gave more of herself in one social media post than she has received from French officials and some colleagues.
Proving Osaka’s point, a reporter on Sunday asked 17-year-old Coco Gauff a convoluted question about possibly facing Serena Williams in the French Open final. While a seemingly fair question, the reporter first rambled on about being compared to the Williams sisters because she’s Black.
“You are often compared to the Williams sisters. Maybe it’s because you’re black. But I guess it’s because you’re talented and maybe American too,” said the reporter before asking the actual question.
The reporter also referred to both Gauff and Williams as “girls.” Gauff waded through the muddle and gave a stunning response to the poorly framed question. But the fact that she had to even address such a sentiment underscored Osaka’s decision to move away from the media, and the game.
One of the leading athletes on the international stage, Osaka has a history of using her platform to elevate causes important to her.
“I always thought in my mind it would be nice if someone started something in tennis,” Osaka said last year. “I was just waiting and waiting, then realized maybe I would have to be the one to take the first step.”
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