Confession: Before Naomi Osaka announced she wasn’t going to participate in post-match news conferences at the French Open, I didn’t know who she was.
I know. That makes me a terrible human being. I don’t follow tennis.
Osaka is currently ranked No. 2 in the world, and she was the highest paid female athlete in the world in 2020.
So, yeah, I suppose I should have known who she was.
Anyway, before the French Open she said she wasn’t doing post-match news conferences. It kicked up her anxiety and she felt like reporters aren’t respectful of mental health. She was prepared to pay a fine.
The media and tennis worlds collectively shit themselves.
Reporters, not all, but way too many, scoffed at the notion that news conferences are harsh, cruel and dehumanizing.
They acted as if reporters are tame as fainting goats barely braying during these gentle occasions.
Well, the French Open fined Osaka $15,000. And all the Grand Slam goons came out and said they would do the same if she pulled such a stunt at their event.
Tennis is their sport and they’ll be goddamned if some star tells them who will sit for a daily roasting that’s created for no other reason than to give more exposure to the sport and make a handful of really rich guys who profit off the backs of people like Osaka slightly richer.
Day 2: Osaka took her racket and went home.
She was kind enough about it in her public statement, but I hope she gave the middle finger to France as her plane took off.
Her statement went deeper into the mental health issues.
Tennis and the media immediately changed their tune. The once-scoffing media hoped she got the help she needed. Tennis made apologetic burping noises.
But, hey, let’s be clear here: Fuck both the media and tennis.
The news media have no credibility in the common person’s house. The news is just weak sapling hanging off the edge of the entertainment industry trying to gain eyeballs through trickery and pandering.
They pump so much anxiety into the air, they ought to be considered a threat to the environment.
I have no sympathy for that devil anymore.
If nothing else, can we at least admit there’s not a goddamn thing worth a damn that comes out of post-game news conferences?
Reporter: What were you thinking when you double-faulted and lost the match?
Athlete: I thought, “Shit, one of you assholes is going to bring this up later and ask me some dumb fucking question like that.”
My late friend Joe Pollack was a celebrated media figure in St. Louis for decades. He told wonderful stories from his time as the public relations man for the St. Louis Cardinals football team.
“Sports writing,” he used to say, “was ruined the day they started interviewing athletes.”
As for tennis, I hope the greedy hustlers in charge learned something about who really has the power in that relationship: Osaka.
She’s the one people are paying and tuning in to see.
Be mindful of that when you think you can put the smack down on her like she works for you. She doesn’t. You work for her.
As for Osaka, like I said, I didn’t know anything about her.
Now, I’m a huge fan.
We’re fellow travelers on the mental health journey. I don’t pretend to know her exact struggles but note this: She’s one of the best in the world at a pro sport, but she’s living with a health condition.
Nobody can tape it up or apply ice to it, but it can be treated. How she treats it is none of my business. It’s no one’s business.
But if you ever wonder why people talk about stigma and mental health, it’s this kind of bullshit. She asked for one accommodation, and there was an avalanche of jerks rushing to keyboards and mics to out-asshole one another to tell her to get in line and quit whining.
I’ve lived with anxiety and depression for a long time. I am a good writer. I was once a good journalist. I’m studying to be a teacher.
Sometimes, I will look and seem fine to even my closest friends, but inside my guts are churning broken glass and nails.
But here’s the thing I keep telling everybody: Mental health is just health.
Think about it this way: If Osaka had high blood pressure or a blood sugar problem, people would understand that. They might even think it was brave of her to play with those potentially life-threating ailments.
Mental health is also potentially life threatening but can be treated. People who live with those ailments can do anything they want with their lives. Osaka proves that.
So, media people, shut the fuck up. Nobody wants to hear from you about anything.
Tennis bosses? Get it together and treat your players like humans, not characters in a video game.
And Osaka? You do you. When you get back to the courts, you’ll have one more fan.
Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
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And withdrawing for a bad knee (and being a male?) gets one a pass.