At the end of May, Naomi Osaka made headlines when she announced that she would not be participating in any press conferences during the 2021 French Open. Citing bouts with depression and anxiety, Osaka explained that taking a break from open press conferences would allow her to focus on the task at hand and be a healthier human being. While she hoped to avoid open media sessions while playing in the tournament, media scrutiny only grew stronger as she made her way through the Grand Slam. Ultimately, the off-court distraction grew to be too much and she withdrew from the tournament.
“This isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago," Osaka said.
“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.”
In the weeks that followed, she made the decision to not play in the German Open or Wimbledon. Fortunately, Osaka will be making her return to the tennis court in Tokyo, Japan at the 2021 Summer Olympic Games later this month. Preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, the budding entrepreneur spoke to TIME about how she's balanced her health with her career.
“I communicated that I wanted to skip press conferences at Roland Garros to exercise self-care and preservation of my mental health,” Osaka said.
“I stand by that. Athletes are humans.”
Organizations that oversee major tournaments within the Women's Tennis Association have not always stood by Osaka's decision to miss press conferences. She was fined multiple times for opting out of press conferences and threatened with being barred from future tournaments. Moving forward, the MET Gala co-chair hopes that the French Open, German Open and other major tournaments look at how they can better support athletes dealing with mental health issues.
“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,” Osaka explained.
“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.”
Regardless of how the WTA moves forward, the Olympian stands by her decision and is glad that she may have helped another person navigate similar issues.
“I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s OK to not be OK; and it’s OK to talk about it. There are people that can help, and there is usually light at the end of any tunnel,” Osaka added.
“Michael Phelps told me that by speaking up, I may have saved a life. If that’s true, then it was all worth it.”