Tennis star Naomi Osaka revealed mental health struggles many people face
Will Osaka’s comments help other athletes, coaches and families better understand?
By Fred Bowen,
Christophe Ena AP
Naomi Osaka has been the talk of the French Open tennis tournament for two weeks even though she played only one match.
Osaka is a 23-year-old superstar in the women’s game. She is rated second in the world and has won four major titles, two United States Opens and two Australian Opens. (Wimbledon and the French Open are the two other major tennis championships.)
Osaka is also the highest-paid female athlete in the world. She made more than $55 million in prize money and endorsements in 2020.
Before this year’s French Open, Osaka announced she would not participate in any after-match news conferences because she wants to safeguard her mental well-being. Osaka said the reporters’ questions sometimes put doubts in her mind.
Osaka skipped the news conference after her first match. Lots of folks criticized this decision on social media, saying Osaka should answer the reporters’ questions as other players do.
Players attend the news conferences to get more people and fans interested in the tournament and tennis in general. Earlier players such as Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova worked hard to make tennis, and especially women’s tennis, popular.
The officials running the French Open fined Osaka $15,000 and threatened to suspend her from the tournament. Instead, Osaka withdrew from the tournament.
Osaka explained that she had battled “long bouts of depression” since she won her first major tournament, the U.S. Open in 2018. Depression is a serious mental illness in which a person feels so sad they lose interest in doing normal, everyday things.
Although Osaka is an international sports star and a multimillionaire, her experience can be a lesson for kids who play sports.
First, Osaka proves that all of a person’s problems are not solved by winning. Sometimes I think kids believe if they can win a game or make a select team they will be happier. But it doesn’t always work that way.
Sometimes after you win, for example, there may be more pressure and expectations to continue winning.
Second, mental illness can happen to anyone, from kids to the biggest sports stars. The great Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who won 28 medals including 23 gold medals, has said he has struggled with depression. It may be harder for athletes who are trained to be strong and tough to admit they have problems and need help.
Third, everyone is different. Lots of athletes seem comfortable with interviews and questions from the media. Osaka, like many adults and kids, describes herself as “shy.” Talking in front of a crowd is a lot harder for her than for most people.
Finally, it seems to me that Osaka, just as anyone who struggles with mental health issues, deserves understanding instead of criticism. Let’s hope that’s where all this talk leads.
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