Naomi Osaka shunning the media is regrettable - but it exposes antiquated tropes present in sports even today

Naomi Osaka skipping press conferences in the French Open is regrettable - but shines a light on other issues about media interactions.

Naomi Osaka in a file photo. (Image: Twitter/@naomiosaka)

Naomi Osaka, to use a modern-day social media slang, woke up and chose violence. Well, the defending Australian Open tennis champ probably didn’t wake up and immediately decide to boycott the media for the duration of the upcoming French Open. But the news still came across as shocking, especially since it appeared from out of nowhere. The 23-year-old announced to the world that, in a bid to protect her own mental health, she will not partake in any press conferences at Roland Garros.

As expected, the decision drew mixed reactions from all quarters. Many were quick to praise her for taking a stand while others said it is her duty as a professional sports athelete to interact with the media.

The reality of the situation, as is always the case in such situations, is somewhere in between.

Naomi Osaka going Radio silent a poor idea

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first – shunning all media interactions is a poor look. Granted, there’s more than a grain of bias involved in this case. As a sports journalist, access to athletes is paramount to the work we do.

Yet its a lot deeper than that. The very concept of avoiding the media can be perceived as arrogant and/or entitled, and of not doing what is required as a professional sportsperson.

There’s also the fact that, in today’s day and age, media access to athletes isn’t exactly a given. Many sportspeople will happily shun media duties if given the choice and many more are reluctant to give interviews.

Thus, cutting off the one outlet that many journalists rely on for soundbites doesn’t seem like a great idea. But it’s safe to say that journalists don’t exactly help themselves either.

Media role

One of the reasons athletes are more than happy to sometimes avoid press conferences is because they are often asked questions that are either repetitive or provocative.

It’s never fun to answer the same questions over and over. It’s even less fun to respond to something designed to get a rise out of you.

It can also be an extra stressful ordeal straight after a loss. As Naomi Osaka noted in her tweet, many sportspeople have broken down in press conferences. This isn’t helped by certain journalists pursuing extremely aggressive lines of questioning.

Journalists will rightly defend their right to ask questions, saying that getting insights straight from athletes adds to the value of a story. Yet the manner in which these conferences proceed can make things hard on both journalists and athletes.

Put simply, journalists will try to ask tough questions to athletes who, in most cases, are savvy to how they operate. Thus, simple question and answer sessions become a game of cat and mouse.

Whether this is down to the journalists or the athletes is a chicken-and-egg scenario. But it needs to change.

New ways of interaction needed

There’s also the fact that in today’s world, people don’t need the media to stay connected to celebrities. The presence of social media has changed the dynamic for the traditional press.

What hasn’t changed, however, is the way the media communicates. Same cut and dry questions and answers. Same times, same places… you get the idea.

In a world where trends are more dynamic than ever, it is a bit surprising that this is still the case. After all, fans too want to hear from their favourite sportspeople. But the moment right after a match often isn’t when they’re at their most erudite.

Indeed, its easy for anyone facing a barrage of questions right after a match to feel overwhelmed. In that sense, Osaka’s point on taking care of one’s mental health is understandable.

It’s not as if this is a new phenomenon either. There have been instances in the past where athletes have shoved microphones away on live television. It’s something that doesn’t really work for athletes. Then why not change it?

What exactly these new ways of interaction may be is still up for debate. But the methods of old are in dire need of replacement – or indeed, refreshment. As for bringing about something new, there’s no time like the present.

Shayne Dias

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