Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open yesterday, apologizing all the way for being a distraction.
The mess started with her stating before the tournament began she would not participate in the obligatory post-match press conferences, citing mental health as her primary motivation:
(Side note: if you think you repetitively get asked the same questions in press conferences, Ms. Osaka, try working in retail for a year. But I digress.)
Tournament organizers were not amused, fining Osaka $15K after she kept her word and didn't do a post-match press conference. The ante was upped after not only more hefty fines, but possible bans from future tournaments were bandied about as possibilities should Osaka continue up to remain mum.
A bit of background on Osaka is warranted. She was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father. Osaka first gained public interest in 2014 when at the ripe old age of seventeen she defeated a former US Open champion in a tournament. She has won four Grand Slam titles. Osaka has been ranked the number one women's tennis player in the world (she currently sits at number two). She says and does all the right things for the woke crowd. Although she has lived in the United States since she was three, she identifies as Japanese. In short, Osaka checks off all the right boxes to be a media darling.
So why the sudden aversion to the media?
Drift back to the 2018 US Open, where Osaka defeated Serena Williams to win the women's singles title. The match will be long remembered not for the level of play, but instead for Williams having an on-court meltdown aimed at referee Carlos Ramos. The pro-Williams crowd heavily showered the stadium with boos, which although not aimed at Osaka still quite obviously cut deep as what should have been the highlight of her career to date — winning a Grand Slam final — instead found her dissolving into tears for all the wrong reasons.
Next, consider that Osaka has led a rather sheltered life, one filled with tennis academies. She has been groomed to be a successful tennis player, which she is. But what about all the other aspects of this thing called life? Her only connection with the concept of shake-it-off is most likely listening to a Taylor Swift song.
Add it up, and you have a recipe for disaster. Osaka acknowledges she suffers from depression and has done so since the aforementioned 2018 US Open, all her success since not erasing that mental wound, which, as depression sufferers know, is the case no matter what one achieves in life. And yes, even a fawning media can be a royal pain, although Osaka should take comfort in knowing that it is almost a guaranteed impossibility she will never face a situation even close to that with which Super Bowl participants are subjected.
While one is tempted to believe Osaka has never heard of, let alone embraced, the philosophy of giving snappy answers to stupid questions as a method of self-defense, it's far more tempting to add Osaka's lack of real-world experience with failure to properly embrace the cornerstone of successful athletes. It is the mindset that sees a race car driver five minutes after climbing out of a car last seen doing multiple fiery barrel rolls across the infield say he or she is just fine, hate it for the team, we'll get 'em next week. It is self-belief that the athlete is in control of the situation, anything untoward that transpires is not their fault, and they will never cede their position as the one directing the action. It is a mindset one has to have in order to accomplish anything in sport.
While it is easy to sympathize with Naomi Osaka's battle with the depression monster, the media is the least of her problems. Embracing political correctness certainly isn't helping matters either, but one thing at a time. Her greatest battle is one she must fight within.