Good for Osaka for Calling for Help
However she did it, Naomi Osaka found a way to catch the attention of all the people around her.
She dropped out of the French Open Monday, saying she has been suffering from depression since 2018. Whatever the circumstances, however she did it, she now gets better help, I hope.
Osaka rang the alarm by saying she didn't want to talk to the media, but now it is clear this is much more than a tantrum by a young adult.
My one question now is: who knew about her trouble? Who let it get this far? Did she have a worldwide number for a qualified counselor who knew her, who was reachable 24 hours a day?
One more thing: Tennis -- with a capital T -- is also to blame. I once knew a doctor who was appalled at the lack of consistent care these great athletes receive. Nothing was available for the next doc-on-call in the next continent to make a diagnosis. Maybe it's better now. But there Naomi Osaka was, in yet another great setting, in yet another Slam tournament, needing to shut it down. Everybody's meal ticket.
Did her parents know? Her coach? Her agent? Her hitting partner? Her physio? I am way out of tennis these days and know nothing of her and her "entourage." But she had to draw the line somewhere, and the media is a fine target, I don't blame her.
The tennis writers and commentators I know would be the first to say: brave lady, get some help, then come back. If you can. If you want. Be safe.
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Here is Matthew Futterman's breaking news story from Paris:
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(The following is my earlier piece.)
How much is it worth to not speak to the scurrilous wretches known as tennis writers?
It is refreshing to know that professional tennis pays so well that Naomi Osaka can willingly pay $15,000 to avoid one short session with the assassins and cut-throats of the press.
This was the going rate when Osaka ducked the media after her first round at the French Open on Sunday. She had promised not to speak, citing the threat to “mental health” from exposure to the troublemakers with pens and recording machines.
Up to now, Osaka has been known for becoming the best female player in the world and also becoming the highest paid female athlete in history, making $34.7-million dollars last year, according to Forbes.
As the daughter of a Haitian father and Japanese mother, representing Japan and growing up in the United States, she has worldwide appeal, and has often spoken out maturely on gender and racial issues. But suddenly, at 23, apparently on her own, she issued a manifesto that she would not appear at the mandatory conferences after every match.
Having covered these post-match conferences since I was younger than Osaka is now, I can attest to the rambling and scattershot tone of these sessions. Most of the accredited media members are from the tennis press – they know the sport, they are solicitous of the players, asking questions about on-court strategy, questionable officiating, luck of the bounce, and upcoming tournament plans. (“Will you be playing at Indian Wells this season?”)
Of course, there are also outliers – columnists, news reporters, and nowadays people representing websites and electronic media, looking for a snippet of quote or tantrum or tears.
Over the years, I have seen most of the enduring players adjust to sudden swerves of questions just as they adjust to swirling winds or glaring sunlight or capricious surfaces. Nobody gets to major tournaments without learning to cope.
Serena Williams deflects questions and criticisms with a combative mode. Her older sister Venus Williams does it with a distant manner; she doesn’t really know anything about this or that. But when they want, both are mature activists for themselves and good causes.
Many of the enfants terribles had their own defense mechanisms – John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors ramped up their obnoxious level, Andre Agassi retreated into a “whut?” response, Ivan Lendl could get haughty. Guys being guys. It got them through.
The best female players were even younger when they came along, facing questions that often veered into personal issues. Some of the female prodigies seemed preternaturally poised – Chris Evert, of course, as well as Pam Shriver and Steffi Graf and Tracy Austin and Martina Hingis and Ana Kournikova most of the time, even when some male reporters seemed to be summoning their inner Humbert Humberts in person and in print.
Female players had marvelous role models – the pioneers who fought for respect and prize money, most notably Billie Jean King. Some women had to face sniggering sexuality questions, most notably from the Beastie Boys of the British press, at post-match press conferences. I remember one female player being asked whether she was wearing an engagement ring from the woman in the family box.
The volunteer steward at the Wimbledon interview room in the '80s was a mannered scion of a major British firm, who would wave off some personal questions – “please, tennis questions only.” I have seen John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova tell him politely they were more than equal to the questions. Which they surely were.
Up to now, Naomi Osaka has been able to handle herself – on the court and in the media conferences. Her manifesto seems to have come from within, without advice from family or agent or coach or friends. Nobody seems to know the origin of her phrase “mental health,” but surely Osaka has seen players be mad or hurt by questions after a loss or a dispute. Perhaps she has been, also.
I can only hope she is talking with people who care for her, including veterans of the tour – Evert and Navratilova. I would suggests she check in with a Black pioneer like Leslie Allen of New York City, who was on the tour back in the day when prize and endorsement money was measured in tens and hundreds.
Unless there is more to Osaka’s angst than we know, she needs to remember that if she can face down the great players on today’s tour, she can handle the Beastie Boys (and Girls) in the media room. We’re the easy part.
5/31/2021 12:20:35 pm
An ace, George. Your post is another example of thoughtful writing--there have been thousands in my life--when I say, "I wish I'd written that."
5/31/2021 12:34:59 pm
I'm right there with Jeansoone on this one, George. I wish I had written this! You said everything I have been thinking, only better. I'll treasure the Beastie Boys of the British Press. Who needs Osaka to give a press conference? I'll simply be quoting my dear friend George!
5/31/2021 05:05:52 pm
Hey, Cindy, thanks for the nice words, You've been at Wimbledon, listsening to the questions and the wicked imitations of the royals, emanating from the Beastie Boys, Hope all is well. Hope to see you at, or around, the Open. Best, G
5/31/2021 05:03:06 pm
John, thanks for your note. You do know that when I was working, I had to check Newsday daily to see what you and Jake and the rest were doing. See you soon. GV
5/31/2021 03:59:24 pm
Events have overtaken us. She has resigned from the French and anniunced a break from the tour. She reports depression as an active condition in her life.
5/31/2021 05:09:26 pm
Ed, thank you for energizing me to write about Osaka. In my update, you'll note that I am skeptical of the "care" tennis athletes receive, either from the federations or the entourages. Mental/psychological care included. Best to you both, G&M
5/31/2021 06:08:35 pm
I omitted the word “not” the right thing to do. It may have been read as sarcasm on my point, “certainly the right thing to do.” For any confusion, concern, I am sorry. As quakers say. “In the Light, Naomi.”
5/31/2021 09:58:49 pm
I was disappointed that Naomi Osaka felt the need to withdraw from the French Open. In addition to making a statement, her actions are probably cathodic.
6/1/2021 07:39:27 am
I am only slightly surprised on Naomi Osaka's withdrawal from the French Open. And I believe she didn't know the depth of her problem until her decision to leave Paris. It has probably happened before, but we, the media, didn't realize it because it was a qualifier or lowly-ranked player who had never won a Grand Slam event.Tennis is a lonely event, out there by yourself in singles, playing in strange cities with different languages from week to week, not wanting to burden members of your entourage with your problems. Remember John McEnroe using the post-match media conference as a psychologist couch or the many other players you mentioned who fought back in the only way they knew. It is time, as Serena said, to give Naomi a hug and let her know we all have her back. As usual George, your empathy shows through in your writing. Thank you.
6/1/2021 08:27:46 am
Bob: Great to hear from my long-time tennis bud, Hope things are well in Maine. You know the tennis world better than I do but I can only assume some of the regular staff people on the tour, her entourage or the WTA regulars, could sense her anxieties, but as you say, a tennis player is alone out there, even if she hangs out in the same communal locker room with competitors, You've been at her press conferences in Queens and probably elsewhere, I have no real read on her......Hope to see you down the line, GV
6/3/2021 09:18:39 pm
6/4/2021 01:27:12 pm
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.