Naomi Osaka’s peculiar decision to not partake in press conferences during this year’s French Open edition is meant, from the Japanese’s point of view, to bring attention to the often poor psychological states that tennis players have to go through, especially when they are asked uncomfortable questions.
But even though Osaka’s action comes in the right context, since May is considered Mental Health Awareness Month, her rash decision may provoke much more harm than good to players, fans, and the whole tennis world. Osaka tweeted on the 27th of May that she won’t “do any press during Roland Garros”.
According to her statement, the 4-times Grand Slam winner was determined to come to this verdict mainly because of the organizations that fine players who miss press conferences, thus damaging players’ mental health.
Osaka presumably refers to large tennis associations like ATP and WTA or certain tournaments who have the “do press or you’re gonna be fined” policy when talking about organizations. However, the bottom line of Osaka’s argument is the simple fact that tennis players can get hurt psychologically by the questions they are asked during press conferences, so they should have the right to say “pass” after a match without getting fined.
Why is Naomi Osaka’s decision wrong
The main reason why Osaka thinks that tennis players’ mental health is hurt during press conferences is the way some journalists address: questions that players have “been asked multiple times before” and questions that “bring doubt” into their minds.
Now, it’s true that these types of questions may produce discomfort, and even be nagging, but isn’t that one of the reasons why journalists exist in our society? What would the world be like if, for example, politicians were asked only about matters that they feel comfortable responding to? The same goes in the sports world, whether we’re talking about tennis, football, basketball, or bowling tournaments.
Moreover, players always have the option to respond with the famous “no comment” to a question that they don’t want to answer. That is to say, players don’t need to avoid press conferences because they can just refuse to answer uncomfortable questions.
Only positive questions admitted?
Naomi Osaka also wrote in her announcement that she won’t subject herself to people that “doubt” her. This may be a good general rule to live by, but it’s very hard to make everyone like you and, frankly, most people have to deal with a little hate from now and then.
You can’t hide from the world because you are a tennis star who can’t stand up to negativity. That’s probably bad for your mental health as well. And remember, when you talk in press conferences to journalists, you also talk to your fans and the whole tennis sphere.
Then, is choosing not to open up to your fans for a whole Grand Slam such a good idea? Sure, you could stay in touch with fans through social media, but your reach is not as great and you’re not that authentic. After all, in a press conference, you can’t script your answers and do a monologue three times until you get it perfect.
Press conferences can be good for mental health
If we come to think about it, most players who lose a match and have to attend a press conference afterward are not in the best mood to do it. So, what if every loser in the ATP and WTA tours would follow Osaka’s example and don’t attend the post-match questioning session because they don’t feel in the right mental state? Would the fans be happy to hear only about the ups of their favorite players and not get inspired about how their on-court heroes deal with defeats? Sure, we can give it to Osaka that sometimes players get angry or sad during press conferences, but many of these conferences also make players cheer up, have fun, and even get them to put their thoughts into place after a tough loss.
Even Osaka claims that she has a “friendly relationship with most journalists”. In the end, taking part in press conferences, whether you feel like it or not, is part of being a professional tennis player, and can sometimes prove beneficial to players’ mental health, so Naomi Osaka's decision to not talk to the press during Roland Garros not only attacks the good-intended media but also sets a negative example to other players that could diminish the relationship between tennis fans and players.