Naomi Osaka Sparks Conversations on Athletes’ Struggles with Mental Health By Brooke Wallace
Number two ranked tennis player in the world Naomi Osaka has put the topic of athletes’ mental health struggles in headlines for the past week. According to Athletes for Hope 35% of elite athletes suffer from a mental health crisis such as stress, eating disorders, burnout, anxiety, and depression. Athletes like Michael Phelps, Ronda Rousey, Kevin Love, and many more have been vocal about their mental health struggles and their stories have been resurfacing as debates about how athlete’s mental health should be treated by the press and how the press may be negatively affecting their mental health.
Osaka has opened the door for these conversations after withdrawing from the French Open on May 31st. After winning her first round against Romanian player Patricia Maria Tig, Osaka did not attend her mandatory post-game press conference and was fined $15,000. The organizers of the four Grand Slams also informed Osaka that if she missed any other media obligations, she could face a suspension from the tournaments.
Osaka took to Twitter to announce her withdrawal from the French open stating, “The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that. Anyone that knows me knows I’m introverted, and anyone that has seen me at tournaments will notice that I am often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety.” After Osaka won the US open in 2018, her first Grand Slam title, she received boos from the audience at the trophy ceremony. She was comforted on stage by her competitor Serena Williams who asked the audience to stop booing and, “Give credit where credit is due.” Serena Williams is one of many athletes who have come forward in solidarity with Osaka’s decision to put her mental health first.
Osaka has stated she plans to continue working with the Tour. On Twitter she said, “When the time is right, I really want to work with the tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans.” It is unknown at this time if Osaka will be returning to the courts to compete in Wimbledon at the end of this month or in the Tokyo Olympics next month.