Update: On Monday, Naomi Osaka announced that she was withdrawing from this year's French Open after being fined for refusing to speak to press. "This isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago," Osaka said, referring to her decision to avoid press conferences for the sake of her mental health. "I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris."
Although Osaka won on Sunday against Patricia Maria Tig, she was fined $15,000 (£10,600) for not participating in a post-match press conference. Osaka made it clear ahead of playing that she did not want to speak to the press because she would get "huge waves of anxiety." But, in response to her decision, representative from the four Grand Slam tournaments released a statement saying that Osaka would be “exposing herself to possible further code of conduct infringement consequences” if she continued to avoid press. “As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament and the trigger of a major offense investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions,” the statement read.
"I would be more than happy to speak with them after the tournament as the Slams are intense," Osaka said in her statement withdrawing. "I'm gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans."
This article was originally published on May 27, 2021.
Instead of participating in any French Open press conferences this year, tennis phenom Naomi Osaka is focusing on her mental well-being. In a statement shared to Instagram and Twitter, Osaka likened press conferences to "kicking a person while they're down," and emphasised that although she respects the tournament and journalists covering the event, she'll be opting out of conversations with media — even though, she noted, she might face a hefty fine.
"I've often felt that people have no regard for athletes mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one," Osaka wrote on Wednesday, citing viral clips of athletes "breaking down after a loss" while doing press. "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 not just going to subject myself to people that doubt with me."
According to the official Grand Slam rulebook, players are mandated to attend post-match media conferences unless they are injured or physically unable to appear. Those who don't could be subjected to pay up to $20,000. Along with her statement, Osaka shared a 2015 video of running back Marshawn Lynch, who was infamously and repeatedly fined by the NFL for refusing to talk to the media. In the clip, Lynch answers every question with the answer, "I'm just here so I won't get fined."
Osaka also shared a clip of a journalist pushing a 14-year-old Venus Williams until her dad had to intervene. Venus commented on Osaka's post, showing support for her decision. "Girl, do you," she wrote. "Your life is yours to live!"
But Osaka's reticence makes sense: Events like the French and U.S. Open are extremely high-pressure, and athletes (especially women, and especially women of color) are often criticized and analyzed for showing any kind of emotion, even after defeat. During a match against Osaka in the 2018 U.S. Open, Serena and umpire Carlos Ramos got into a fight, causing a media frenzy that Serena described as sexist. She was pitted against Osaka and received backlash online, and wrote in a Harper's Bazaar essay that she started seeing a therapist.
Rennae Stubbs, an ESPN commentator and retired Australian tennis player, praised Osaka's choice on Twitter. "4 someone who now works in media & knows how important quotes & sound bites are, I was also a player, with feelings!" Stubbs wrote. "This move from Naomi is really an amazing moment 4 the media to LISTEN to these players & understand how tough it is for many of them & to do better & get better!"
Osaka said that, if she's fined, she hopes the money she pays can go towards a mental health charity. "If the organizations think that they can just keep saying, 'do press or you're gonna be fined,' and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of the cooperation," she wrote, "then I just gotta laugh."