This is a difficult article to write, because its heartbreak runs through our entire society and there are no easy answers. But the need to write something about it hit me while reading the current controversy over a brilliant tennis star who had the bravery to tell us that tennis was the easy part, facing the press was very nearly more than she could bear.
And so she walked away
Before we get to that, here are Naomi’s abbreviated Wikipedia highlights:
Naomi Osaka, born October 16, 1997 is a Japanese professional tennis player. She has been ranked No. 1 by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) and is the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles. She is a four-time Grand Slam singles champion, and is the reigning champion at the US Open and the Australian Open.
Osaka has lived and trained in the United States since age three. She came to prominence at age 16 when she defeated former US Open champion Samantha Stosur in her WTA Tour debut at the 2014 Stanford Classic. Osaka made her breakthrough into the upper echelon of women's tennis in 2018 when she won her first WTA title at the Indian Wells Open. Later in the year, she defeated 23-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams in the final of the US Open to become the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles title. Since 2018, she has won a Grand Slam singles title in four consecutive years.
Osaka is one of the world's most marketable athletes, having been ranked eighth among all athletes in endorsement income in 2020. She was also the highest-earning female athlete of all time by annual income that year. She gained significant recognition as an activist, having showcased support for the Black Lives Matter movement in conjunction with her matches. She was named one of the 2020 Sports Illustrated Sportspersons of the Year for her activism largely as part of her US Open championship run, and was also included on Time's annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world in both 2019 and 2020. Moreover, she was the 2021 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year. On the court, Osaka has an aggressive playing style with a powerful serve that can reach 201 kilometers per hour (125 mph).
Naomi suffers extended bouts of depression
Can you imagine how uphill the climb is to those heights when you suffer personal doubts? Probably not. Only those who’ve been there understand how fragile confidence can be—a flickering candle that needs cupped-hands to keep from blowing out.
Tough shit, it’s in the contract to be picked apart. So she backed away to protect that candle and the WTA fined her $15,000. If she doesn't cave in, they threaten to ban her from Grand Slam competitions. Talk about driving a nail with a sledgehammer.
Osaka received a lot of support from fellow players and athletes over her decision to boycott news conferences. And there was criticism of the sport's governing bodies' strongly-worded statement on Sunday, which threatened her with expulsion from the French Open and future Grand Slams over what she said was a decision based on seeking to protect her mental health.
We’ll see how that plays out
But there are so many other media sensitivity issues in print and video.
Chase down the family of a black kid shot seventeen times in the back by police and jamb a microphone in their face: “Tell us how it feels to be told your son is not coming home. Can you share your thoughts with us?”
World Series, game seven, final inning, two out and two on base. An easy third out the right-fielder loses in the lights and the ball drops in. Two runs score and the home team loses. “Can you tell us, Marty, how it feels to be that close and lose the World Series trophy?”
I have a thought on that, as you supposed I might
A Calvin and Hobbes cartoon is the perfect example. Calvin busted his dad’s brand new binoculars and is catching hell, unending hell it seems. “I have an idea, dad,” he says, a tear leaking out of one eye. “Let’s pretend I already feel terrible about it and that you don’t need to rub it in any more” If you somehow missed Calvin and Hobbes in your lifetime, chase down a copy here. It explains just about everything you need to know to stumble through life without breaking an ankle.
Yet perhaps until we come up with something better in the sports-social-commentary world, why not interview winners and leave losers to lick their wounds and prepare for another day. Because they are really not losers, they are families facing incredible loss and wonderfully talented athletes that had a tough day.
The very least we can do is bow our heads and give them space.
Image Credit: japantimes.com