Naomi Osaka is sharing more details behind her decision to withdraw from the French Open back in May. The 23-year-old 4-time grand slam champion opened up about her struggles with mental health and the media in a powerful essay for TIME titled “It’s O.K. Not To Be O.K.”
The tennis star revealed that she believes athletes have “the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions.”
Osaka began her lengthy open letter by expressing that she felt pressure to disclose her feelings to the media out of fear and concern for her privacy.
“In any other line of work, you would be forgiven for taking a personal day here and there, so long as it’s not habitual. You wouldn’t have to divulge your most personal symptoms to your employer; there would likely be HR measures protecting at least some level of privacy,” Osaka penned.
“In my case, I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms — frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me,” she wrote. “I do not wish that on anyone and hope that we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones. I also do not want to have to engage in a scrutiny of my personal medical history ever again. So I ask the press for some level of privacy and empathy next time we meet.”
Back in late May, Osaka took to Twitter ahead of the French Open to share that she would not be participating in press coverage to protect her mental health.
“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athlete’s mental health and this very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” Osaka tweeted. “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.”
The tennis champ was later hit with a $15,000 fine for her failure to participate in post-game press coverage.
The organizers of Roland Garros and the Grand Slam organization said that they tried to speak with Noami about her concerns and wellbeing but ultimately the organization shared in a statement that the fine was issued in accordance with Roland Garros’ rules and procedures.
“We want to underline that rules are in place to ensure all players are treated exactly the same, no matter their stature, beliefs, or achievement. As a sport there is nothing more important than ensuring no player has an unfair advantage over another, which unfortunately is the case in this situation if one player refuses to dedicate time to participate in media commitments while the others all honour their commitments,” the statement read.
Subsequently, Osaka announced her decision to withdraw from the French Open citing that it was never her intention to become a “distraction” during the ordeal.
“I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. More importantly, I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly,” she said at the time.
Elsewhere in her TIME essay, the young tennis prodigy revealed more behind her bought with depression. Osaka previously mentioned back in May she had battled with the condition since 2018. The star athlete expressed that she’s “naturally introverted and [does] not court the spotlight,” adding, “I always try to push myself to speak up for what I believe to be right, but that often comes at a cost of great anxiety.”
“I feel uncomfortable being the spokesperson or face of athlete mental health as it’s still so new to me and I don’t have all the answers,” she continued. “I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to talk about it. There are people who can help, and there is usually light at the end of any tunnel.”
Despite her decision to withdraw from the French Open, Osaka detailed her excitement to compete in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. The tennis champion shared that after some much-needed family and reflection time that she’s ready to get back on the court.
“After taking the past few weeks to recharge and spend time with my loved ones, I have had the time to reflect, but also to look forward. I could not be more excited to play in Tokyo. An Olympic Games itself is special, but to have the opportunity to play in front of the Japanese fans is a dream come true. I hope I can make them proud,” Osaka wrote.