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About a month ago, tennis phenom Naomi Osaka sparked a much-needed conversation about the mental health of athletes. She was fined $15,000 for skipping a press conference during the French Open. Shortly after that, Osaka withdrew from the tournament, writing in a note posted to Twitter, "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 that I’m introverted, and anyone that has seen me at tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety."
Now, in a new op-ed for TIME, Osaka—who has previously written about social justice issues for Esquire—opened up about her decision to leave the French Open, her mental health struggles, and her excitement for competing in the Tokyo Olympics. Throughout the piece, Osaka clarifies what she believes were several misconceptions and misconstrued storylines following her decision to pull out of the tournament. Mainly? People who claimed that she had a general dislike of the media. Here's a look at what Osaka wrote:
"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," Osaka clarified. Later on in the piece, she continued, "However, in my opinion (and I want to say that this is just my opinion and not that of every tennis player on tour), the press-conference format itself is out of date and in great need of a refresh. I believe that we can make it better, more interesting and more enjoyable for each side. Less subject vs. object; more peer to peer."
Notably, Osaka made the brilliant point that for most people, they have the freedom to take sick days and not have to disclose their exact symptoms to their employer. She suggested that athletes could also have a small number of "sick days" to use, which would allow them to be excused from press commitments with zero repercussions. Elsewhere in the op-ed, Osaka thanks people like Michelle Obama, Michael Phelps, Steph Curry, Novak Djokovic, and Meghan Markle for supporting her. But she made it clear what her hopes are for how things will change going forward:
"In my case, I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms—frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me," she wrote. "I do not wish that on anyone and hope that we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones. I also 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."
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