Home > Uncategorized > Naomi Osaka Deserved Better From The French Open

Naomi Osaka Deserved Better From The French Open

Often, when I speak in public, my heart rate spikes. I forget how to breathe like a normal person. I can’t quite catch my breath, and I’m not entirely certain I won’t pass out. It’s fun, if fun was designed by a sadist. And the charming thing is, it doesn’t always happen. It’s not impossible to do X all the time, so it’s like SURPRISE! You’re a Mess. Or more of a mess. It’s really frustrating, and you often don’t see it from the outside. I am incredibly good at masking, hiding the panic. It’s not a coping mechanism. It’s the emotional equivalent of breaking your leg and then insisting you don’t cry in public. Why? Because we’re not supposed to talk about emotional health or well-being. It makes people uncomfortable.

So, when I watched the story with Naomi Osaka unfold at the French Open, I got angry. Not because I’m a tennis fan. I’m not. (I watch the Yankees. That’s it. I was raised in a sports family, and that’s really all I can tolerate, aside from horse shows. But I digress.) Osaka should not have had to withdraw from the French Open. The situation that led to her doing that is downright appalling, neglectful at best, and honestly actively harmful at worst—which is what I think it is.

Osaka, in an attempt to prioritize her mental health, wanted to opt out of talking to the press. That doesn’t sound unusual to me. We see celebrities do this all the time. “No comment” is nothing new. Unless you’re pulling a Sean Penn and assaulting a paparazzi, who gives an unfettered damn?

Well, the folks who run the French Open apparently do. Instead of taking Osaka’s statement regarding her own mental health and acting with compassion, they threatened to fine and expel her. Now, I understand that there are rules, but if that is the rule? It’s wrong, and it needs to change. Because growth is important, and how we care for and about people matters. When someone is upfront about their needs, they should not be penalized for it.

What I find particularly galling is that speaking to the press genuinely isn’t part of playing the game of tennis. It’s strange that we’d foist that kind of rigid expectation onto people, without any kind of escape hatch. Yes, she’s brilliant. Yes, she’s a professional. But she’s also a person. And people are complex. The idea that she has an obligation be part of a press event, which is not a low-stress thing, is absolute horseshit. Fresh, steaming pile of nope. Insisting that she perform outside of her actual job (you know, tennis) or face negative consequences is absolutely egregious.

It’s not unreasonable to prioritize one’s own well-being. There’s no amount of money or fame that can insulate someone from being human. I saw a heap of online backlash from rather heartless people, griping about her wanting to be coddled and she should just do her job. And I really can’t wrap my head around the gross demand that someone should prioritize anything over their own well-being. Especially when that person was clear about their needs and still had every intention of doing their actual job. (Which, btw, having a difficult moment and needing to step away from something is entirely valid.)

Osaka’s most recent statement is here. And I hope that you’ll read it, if you haven’t already. Then I hope that you’ll consider both the sexism and the racism at work here. Remember how poorly the French Open treated Serena Williams when she needed to wear a catsuit for medical reasons? Imagine looking at someone who nearly died giving birth, because patient care for Black women is absolute crap, and thinking, “No. She cannot do her job that way!” Like, are you kidding me? It’s not enough to be outraged, though. It’s not enough to say this is unfair, because it’s more than unfair. It’s actively damaging and harmful. The way we talk about mental health needs to change. We’re all messy humans. Sometimes, the mess you cannot see needs to be respected, tended to. If someone has a more tangible disease, we don’t shame them. This should be no different.

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