Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from French Open 2021 has come as a shock for many people. The backdrop of her withdrawal is confounding. Initially, Osaka had announced that she was skipping press conferences in order to preserve her mental health. Naomi Osaka also opened up on her battles with depression, having suffered from frequent bouts since 2018. In the meantime, officials fined her USD 15,000 for skipping the opening press conference.
They went one step further which showed their lack of understanding. The official French Open account posted and deleted a tweet that seemed to contain a dig against Osaka. The tweet showed pictures of Rafael Nadal, Kei Nishikori, Aryna Sabalenka and Coco Gauff speaking to the media. The caption read: “They understood the assignment.” The rigidity and the demand for protocol has exposed the lack of empathy among top officials.
This is the era of social media. It has often been seen that it can lead to issues of cyberbullying, harassment, and depression. Direct access afforded to athletes puts them at risk for being targeted by the public. Harassment and associated emotional distress are amplified due to the ease of publicly available through social media communication.
It seems sport and officialdom have a 180-degree relationship when it comes to understanding depression. Let us look at something closer to home. In India, the system of cricket is so intense and demanding that mental health takes a backseat. In the past, there was no mechanism to address the situation. Players would have to cope with it. The race for the elite India position would hardwire them to ensure they never told these problems.
Only now, and the key is now, that sportspersons are coming out with their mental health. The England and Australia players have opened up about their plight. In India, there have been various instances of players undergoing depression. It was not until Virat Kohli opened up that majority of the population knew about mental health issues and depression. But, it took Virat Kohli, an elite top athlete to state that he had suffered for the awareness to begin.
Even here, the nature of eliteness is a pre-requisite to ensure that an issue comes out in the open. If it was any other small player, the issue would have been brushed under the carpet. This time, the Tennis world could not ignore Osaka’s plight.
There was plenty of debate and division over Osaka’s decision. Some supported it while a few panned it. Is it time even for the media to look themselves in the mirror? In the era of clickbait writing, misleading information, false news and vindictive opinions, does a player have to adhere to strict media protocols?
Naomi Osaka is a very quiet person. She rarely speaks much. Through her actions on the court, she makes big statements. During the Black Lives Matter movement, she wore a different mask every single time highlighting the plight of a black individual who had suffered in America during the US Open. It was Osaka and the NBA players who were at the forefront in the BLM matter.
Osaka uses social media to communicate. The hard nature of questions and answers might sometimes make it socially awkward for Osaka. With her quiet and soft nature, Osaka is not someone who can give a rocket to a journalist in case of a foolish question. Osaka perhaps might not want to hide behind the garb of ‘no comments’ due to her forthrightness.
The media needs to take everything with a pinch of salt. Yes, it might be argued that journalists have a deadline and some honestly report. But, this is a loss for honest journalists. In India, access to players, matches of any events are curbed by the privilege of access, whims of editors and convenient pulling of purses by top people. If one player does not want to speak to the media, then it is entirely his/her decision that must be respected.
The world has not yet opened up on the battles of mental health and depression. The French Open and Tennis officialdom have put themselves in a poor light by being incredibly insensitive on Osaka’s plight. The follow-up in damage control has also been shoddy, with words of help only on paper.