Naomi Osaka breaks her silence in a personal essay penned for TIME Magazine, where she talks about the importance of mental health and anxiety, the need for the media to offer privacy and empathy and her excitement to compete in her first Olympic games in Tokyo. Osaka, the worlds #2 ranked women’s tennis player finally opens up amidst controversy after skipping a mandatory post-match news conference at the French Open. She was fined $15,000, then withdrew from the tournament as well as Wimbledon. This started a firestorm of discussions around mental health awareness. Unlike her counterparts, for example, Serena Williams, who chose to stand up to the media with her “I said what I said” attitude or Allyson Felix who prioritized motherhood over a huge Nike endorsement, Naomi choose to stay quiet until now. There’s power in putting yourself first and opting to bow out when you’re off track mentally is such a courageous thing to do.
We can only guess that at 23 years of age with the amount of scrutiny that she’s under, choosing time to “Get Your Mind Right” first over money, popularity and career is life changing but better than that, the best decision for her at the time. We like the rest of the world will always stand beside her and her choice to put mental health first. “Life is a journey. In the past few weeks, my journey took an unexpected path but one that has taught me so much and helped me grow. I learned a couple of key lessons.” Here is what we learned about Naomi, how she feels and the 10 key takeaways and quotes from her unapologetically powerful essay.
- “The world is as divided now as I can remember in my short 23 years, issues that are so obvious to me at face value, like wearing a mask in a pandemic or kneeling to show support for anti-racism, are ferociously contested. I mean, wow. So, when I said I needed to miss French Open press conferences to take care of myself mentally, I should have been prepared for what unfolded.”
- “It has become apparent to me that literally everyone either suffers from issues related to their mental health or knows someone who does. The number of messages I received from such a vast cross section of people confirms that. I think we can almost universally agree that each of us is a human being and subject to feelings and emotions.”
- I always try to answer (questions from the press) genuinely and from the heart. I’ve never been media-trained, so what you see is what you get. The way I see it, the reliance and respect from athlete to press is reciprocal.
- “This was never about the press, but rather the traditional format of the press conference. I’ll say it again for those at the back: I love the press; I do not love all press conferences.”
- “The intention was never to inspire revolt, but rather to look critically at our workplace and ask if we can do better.”
- “Athletes are humans. Tennis is our privileged profession, and of course there are commitments off the court that coincide.”
- “ I 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.”
- “I am eternally grateful to all my partners. Although I am not surprised as I purposefully chose brand partners that are liberal, empathetic and progressive, I am still tremendously thankful.”
- “Believe it or not, I am naturally introverted and do not court the spotlight. I always try to push myself to speak up for what I believe to be right, but that often comes at a cost of great anxiety.”
- “ I feel uncomfortable being the spokesperson or face of athlete mental health as it’s still so new to me and I don’t have all the answers. I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s O.K. to not be O.K., and it’s O.K. to talk about it. There are people who can help, and there is usually light at the end of any tunnel. Michael Phelps told me that by speaking up I may have saved a life. If that’s true, then it was all worth it.”
Read Naomi’s full Essay HERE.