Naomi Osaka Says Athletes Are Taught to 'Win at All Costs' at Expense of 'More Important Things'

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Naomi Osaka for Dazed Magazine. CRED: Justin French.
Naomi Osaka for Dazed Magazine. CRED: Justin French.

Justin French

Naomi Osaka believes it's time for athletes to be defined by things beyond just their athletic ability.

The 24-year-old was featured on the latest cover of Dazed magazine and opened up about why she chose to be vocal about racial injustice and mental health.

"I think as high-level athletes, we are accustomed to being trained to win at all costs, but actually there are more important things in life, and it doesn't define who we are as people," she told the outlet for its Summer 2022 cover story. "It's a big change, but also quite subtle at the same time."

Osaka made headlines last year when she was fined $15,000 for not participating in post-match interviews at the French Open. She then voluntarily withdrew from the Grand Slam tournament, citing her need to prioritize her mental health and emotional wellbeing. She said the moment helped her realize the immense pressure athletes face.

The tennis champion has since become one of many notable athletes — like Simone Biles and Michael Phelps — who have expressed their desire for sports figures to place their physical and mental wellbeing over championship titles and other accolades.

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But Osaka said her ability to speak out about the issues meaningful to her didn't happen overnight. She said she first realized she could make an impact after the death of George Floyd, when she decided to wear seven masks with the names of victims of racial injustice ahead of her matches at the 2020 U.S. Open.

"Looking back, I think that was definitely the first time I realized that I had a voice, and it could be used in a positive way," she explained. "I just went with my instincts."

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Osaka added that she's unfazed by the criticism she often receives for using her platform for issues outside of sports.

"It's archaic and ignorant, but it doesn't bother me too much now," she told Dazed. "To be upset at an athlete expressing an opinion is bizarre to me."

Naomi Osaka for Dazed Magazine. CRED: Justin French.
Naomi Osaka for Dazed Magazine. CRED: Justin French.

Justin French

Osaka recently spoke to PEOPLE about how she's grown as a person and athlete over the last year.

"For me, the biggest lesson I've learned is to try to be present in each moment," she said in April. "It's easy to lose sight of how far you've come, but I've been prioritizing trying to live in the moment and enjoy the journey."

"I think being honest about how I feel can help other people feel less alone," Osaka told PEOPLE of her decision to speak out about seeking therapy this year. "Therapy is something that everyone can benefit from, regardless of if they are 'struggling' or not."

RELATED VIDEO: Naomi Osaka Says She's Having 'a Blast' on Tennis Court for 'First Time in a While'

Osaka said seeing a therapist also helped her cope with anxiety.

"I don't have all the answers," she explained, "but I hope that my transparency can help someone else who may be feeling similarly."