Naomi Osaka is a player that I admire. Only 23, she has amassed a multitude of records: four Grand Slam titles, the world No. 1 ranking (2019), and she earned, in the past 12 months, a whopping $55.2 million. That’s more money in a year than any female athlete. Ever.
Setting aside her Nike and Louis Vuitton deals, the Japanese superstar is a global icon. She was a voice of the George Floyd protests when she wore different masks in New York last September. She won the 2020 US Open and won the hearts of millions fighting for racial injustice.
But, today, I have to disagree with Naomi Osaka.
“I’m writing this to say I’m not going to do any press during Roland Garros,” said Osaka. “I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one. We are 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.”
Osaka is willing to be fined as much as $20,000 per press conference absence.
Respectfully, I oppose Osaka’s viewpoint. Media is an integral part of society — including sports. If you take away the role of the journalists, how will the tens of millions who follow tennis know about the fine points of the game?
Roland Garros holds a special place for me because I was there six years ago. Not only did I get to watch Serena and Novak slide and spin on the red clay, but I was there as a journalist. I had a media pass (thanks to SunStar) and sat inside the pressroom to interview the players.
One memorable incident: My first time inside the Media Room, I joined dozens of other writers from around the globe. As soon as Stan Wawrinka sat on his chair to be interviewed, I did the most natural act: I took out my phone and snapped a photo. That’s when an official hurriedly walked towards me and whispered, “Sorry, no photos allowed. Please delete that.”
I apologized and deleted the photo. (I was still able to retrieve the infamous picture and yesterday, when I examined it again, the photo showed a seated Wawrinka and an official near him pointing toward me!)
After that uneasy first media session, I joined a few more (with Federer and the other stars) and found the atmosphere to be relaxed and engaging.
Now, I understand Naomi’s point. There are times when mediamen are cold-hearted and merciless, asking dumb questions to the teary-eyed sufferer. But if, as an athlete, you can suffer on-court for three hours, swatting backhands and sprinting to retrieve drop shots, surely you can absorb a few hard-line questions, right?
“As sports people,” said Rafa Nadal, “we need to be ready to accept the questions and try to produce an answer, no?”
Yes. Added Nadal: “I understand her, but.. without the press, without the people who normally are traveling, who are writing the news and achievements that we are having around the world, probably we will not be the athletes that we are today.”