Naomi Osaka Does Not Owe Us An Explanation As To Why She Doesn’t Like Press Conferences

The tennis star broke down in tears after she was asked about her reluctance to participate in press conferences. But she should never have been asked the question in the first place.

Naomi Osaka

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

Naomi Osaka has made headlines once more this morning after the 23-year-old tennis star was brought to tears during her first press conference since withdrawing from the French Open due to mental health issues in June.

At the time, organisers threatened to expel her from the competition after she pulled out of her scheduled press conference because of said mental health issues - and due to further mental stress from the surrounding commentary, she ended up pulling out of the competition altogether.

Now, after three months, she returned to the press conference chair to discuss her next match – the four-time grand slam champion has received a bye into Cincinnati’s Western and Southern Open second round – but was instead questioned on her relationship with the press. Naomi has been subject to vile commentary in the past three months about her decision to take a mental health day, with some using the opportunity to escalate a narrative that she is entitled, privileged and hates all press – something she has never said.

‘You’re not especially fond of dealing with the media, especially in this format, you have suggested there are better ways to do it,’ the reported began. ‘My question was you also have outside interests beyond tennis that are served by having the platform that the media presents to you – how do you think you might be able to best balance the two?’

‘I can’t really speak for everybody I can only speak for myself, but ever since I was younger I’ve had a lot of media interest on me and I think it’s because of my background as well as how I play,’ Naomi replied. ‘In that regards I’m quite different to a lot of people, I can’t really help that there are some things I tweet or say that create a lot of news articles. I know that it’s because I’ve won a couple of grand slams and I’ve gotten to do a lot of press conferences that these things happen, but I would also say I’m not really sure how to balance the two. I’m figuring it out at the same time as you are.’

Almost immediately after answering the question, Naomi began to tear-up before hiding her face as another reporter asked a question. The moderator then suggested they take a brief break as Naomi began to stifle back more tears.

For anyone who has suffered with mental illness, it’s hard to watch. Naomi is clearly feeling overwhelmed by the question and it’s insinuation, with her sports agent Stuart Duguid later condemning the reports questioning as attempting to ‘intimidate’ and ‘bully’ her.

‘Everyone on that Zoom will agree that his tone was all wrong and his sole purpose was to intimidate. Really appalling behaviour,’ Druid said in a statement. ‘And this insinuation that Naomi owes her off-court success to the media is a myth – don’t be so self-indulgent.’

It’s something Naomi has spoken about already, writing for TIME magazine that she had no idea requesting one mental health day back in June would lead to this explosive narrative that she hates all media.

In any other line of work, you wouldn’t have to divulge your most personal symptoms to your employer.

‘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,’ she wrote in July.

‘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. 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.’

While the reporter did not ask her about her mental illness, he clearly broached the subject of her disliking press conferences with the knowledge that she finds them difficult mentally. Furthering the narrative that she owes the media her career and is thus being ‘hypocritical’ by needing privacy, it was a direct violation of what Naomi had asked for in that TIME piece: empathy.

Because, Naomi does not owe anyone an explanation to why she dislikes press conferences – as soon as she cited her mental illness, that should’ve been the end of the story. In her initial answer to the reporter’s question, she said ‘I would say the occasion, like when to do the press conference, is the most difficult’, eluding to the fact that mental illness is not a linear experience, there are times you might feel strong enough to take on a room full of people asking you whether you’re good enough at your job, and times you won’t.

Yesterday, Naomi clearly felt strong enough to take on questions, but in not respecting her wish for empathy around a subject that has brought so much pain to her, who knows when she will again. In an interview about her next game, Naomi should not have to delve into why her mental illness prevents her from enjoying press conferences, nor how she intends to deal with her symptoms in order to ‘balance’ media attention she is obliged to do or wants to do in order to increase her platform (not just in sport, but in social justice too, for which she often speaks out about).

At a time when the young tennis star is clearly dipping her toe back into the press conference pool, knowing how many eyes will be thus on her, she needs compassion and understanding of mental illness stigma more than anything.

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