The world of tennis was given a wake-up call recently during the Championships at Roland Garros, also known as the French Open. The event is one of four major tournaments played throughout the year. Just prior to the start of the tournament Naomi Osaka, the number two ranked woman player in the world, announced that she would not participate in any of the post-match press conferences at the event. Why was this pronouncement a big deal? Because the players are obligated contractually to meet the press and answer questions related to the match. The session is an event within itself, and all the marquee players offer their perspectives on certain aspects of the match play. The conference is also sponsored by beverage companies with their bottles on display, along with tables, tents, and banners to advertise their wares. Therefore, the press conferences are a revenue-generating opportunity for the tournament. The problem with the press is that the questions they ask many times go unregulated. Questions that are unrelated to the match are often put forth to the players and can generate uncomfortable situations. Players from Serena Williams and Roger Federer have been known to blow up at reporters for asking impersonal questions. So, Naomi decided not to participate and to focus strictly on her tennis game.
People must realize that Naomi Osaka, although being a great player, has a sensitive personality. Strength of character on the court does not always transfer to the press room. Many people in general keep their opinions close to the vest, meaning they simply want to show up, do their job, and move on. To put it in another perspective, just imagine going to work, doing your job, and then being grilled on what you did as well as why you did it. Some individuals with stronger personalities can handle the pressure; others like Naomi struggle with the off-key queries. She recently made a statement that she suffers from depression, and given her involvement socially with causes such as Black Lives Matter, she anticipated that the French Open post-match press conference would be unbearable. So, Naomi took a stance for her own mental health and decided against participating. The backlash was immediate from commentators of the match and the media outlets. She was even fined $15,000 with continuing threats of more fines and being booted from the event. The other three major tournaments, Wimbledon, Australian Open, and the US Open, also threatened to act as well. Totally overwhelmed by the negativity and pressures placed upon her, Naomi withdrew from the French Open and has decided to step away from the game for a while.
Personally, I think what happened to Naomi is unfortunate. If a player obligates themselves to participate in the press briefings after their match, then the questions asked should be centered on just that. Other questions relating to personal opinions on anything else should be off-limits. It is the venue’s responsibility to regulate what is okay in the form of questioning the players, and they need to rethink how they implement these press conferences in the future. Naomi’s issues are relevant, and mental health concerns should be considered for all the player’s sake.