Naomi Osaka opened about the support and backlash she received after withdrawing from the French Open in a new essay for TIME Magazine. The article, which was published online on Thursday (July 8), arrives after the 23-year-old declined to speak at a French Open press conference to protect her mental health.
In the essay, Osaka said Former First Lady Michelle Obama, Olympian Michael Phelps, NBA star Steph Curry, Meghan Markle and more reached out to offer their support when she received backlash for the decision. She added that Phelps told her “speaking up” about her struggles with anxiety and depression “may have saved a life.”
“If that’s true, then it was all worth it,” she wrote.
Osaka also clarified that her decision not to speak with press at the tournament was not an issue with the media in general, but the format of press conferences.
“I have always enjoyed an amazing relationship with the media and have given numerous in-depth, one-on-one interviews,” she wrote. “... However, in my opinion... the press conference format itself is out of date and in great need of a refresh. I believe that we can make it better, more interesting and more enjoyable for each side. Less subject vs. object; more peer to peer.”
Osaka also suggested that athletes be allowed a “small number of ‘sick days’ per year,” like is standard in other professions, where they are excused from press duties.
“Athletes are humans. Tennis is our privileged profession, and of course there are commitments off the court that coincide,” she wrote. “But I can’t imagine another profession where a consistent attendance record (I have missed one press conference in my seven years on tour) would be so harshly scrutinized.”
As reported by REVOLT, Osaka was hit with a $15,000 fine from French Open organizers for refusing to speak to the media. The four-time Grand Slam champion also said she felt pressured to publicly disclose her mental health symptoms “because the press and the tournament did not believe me.”
“I do not wish that on anyone and hope that we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones,” she wrote. “... I ask the press for some level of privacy and empathy next time we meet.”
Despite pulling out of the French Open and skipping Wimbledon, Osaka will play tennis at the Tokyo Olympics.