Naomi Osaka is awesome, and we should leave her alone as long as she wants. That’s the post for today, see ya!
(Okay, that’s not the whole post. But she is awesome, and we should give her space, and here’s why).
Whether or not you follow tennis, you still might have heard about Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the French Open earlier this week. She withdrew after being fined by and warned of her expulsion because of her decision to not do media and press during the tournament. In her Instagram post explaining her decision to withdraw, she opened up about “suffering long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018,” and that she has had a hard time coping with those bouts of depression. The response to her statement was surprising in some ways, and predictable in others.
One of the more positive surprises was seeing the way that tennis players and other professional athletes have come out in support for Osaka this week. Venus Williams not only stood up in support, but shut down the media on how she copes with some of those same pressures that are placed on her. Athletes in other sports also put out their shows of support, telling Osaka to take all the time she needed before returning to competition.
While this was a positive surprise, I was also surprised by the way many outlets told this story – you would have thought this was the first athlete to start a conversation about mental health! Unfortunately, the sort of response we’ve seen indicates that a lot of our culture still views mental health as a topical subject instead of a topic that should be covered on a daily basis. It’s a little confusing, because elite athletes have been having these conversations for years.
The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same
And this is where we get into the predictable part of mental health discourse. A lot has changed in the way we discuss mental health in our communities, and there will be more positive change – I know it’s coming. But I’m routinely reminded of just how far we need to go in certain areas, and the sports world is one of them. So much more needs to be done for us to understand that athletes, like everyone else, are humans first.
Mental health shouldn’t matter only when an athlete takes a major stand for their own well-being (though it’s awesome when they do!); it should matter in the way the media interacts with them on a daily basis. It should matter in the way they interact with each other, and with the world. This isn’t just about being brave and about practicing self-care; this is about a person who is putting themselves in the best space to be happy and healthy. And personally, that makes me want to root for her even more.
While this post will talk more about the mental health aspect of Osaka’s decision, I found an article that takes a more intersectional approach to all the factors involved (Leave Naomi Osaka Alone by Tyler Tynes for GQ) that is a very good read if you have the time!
What do you think of Osaka’s decision? How do you think it will influence the way we talk about mental health in our society? Let me know in the comments!