What can the sports world learn from Naomi Osaka?
Naomi Osaka has dropped out of the French Open. Currently ranked world number two by the by the Women's Tennis Association, she had boycotted mandatory press events on the grounds that too little attention was being paid to players' mental health. Following persistent criticism and a fine by the French Tennis Federation, she withdrew from the tournament and admitted she was suffering from depression and anxiety. This sends an important signal, Europe's press comments.
When talking is golden
The tennis star could have prevented much of the fuss with better communication, Der Standard says:
“There are quite a few lessons to be learned here. That even superstars can suffer from depression is just one of them. Moreover, Osaka's communication was certainly less than perfect. ... The Parisians were left feeling snubbed, and reacted harshly. The media questioned other tennis stars about the affair and a number of them said that the four-time grand slam winner shouldn't make such a fuss, that press work was just part of the game. Hardly anyone reflected on or even asked what could have prompted Osaka to take this step. ... Talking would have been golden in this case. Posting opinions and judging from afar was at best tin.”
The media can adapt
In his column for RTV Slovenija, sports journalist Slavko Jerič shows understanding for Osaka's decision:
“Top athletes are much more exposed and have many more obligations (not only to the media but also to sponsors) compared to others. It's hypocritical for them to be admired and revered on the one hand, only to be discarded like useless rubbish when problems arise. All too often we don't realise that mental health is extremely important. If society or the community can adapt to exceptions (special needs; sickness...), I don't see why we shouldn't adapt to people who experience extreme stress, anxiety and discomfort when they come to us journalists in the press room.”
No need for press conferences
In the world of sport, press conferences have become redundant, writes sports journalist Jonathan Liew in The Guardian:
“The great conceit of the press conference is that it is basically a direct line from the athlete to the public at large, that we humble scribes are but the people's faithful eyes and ears in the land of the gods. In case you hadn't noticed, this hasn't really been true for a while. Athletes now have their own direct line to the public, and spoiler: it's not us. Hard as it is to believe, Osaka's function as an entertainer and corporate billboard is contingent on her playing tennis at an appointed hour, rather than being forced to sit in a windowless room explaining herself to a roomful of middle-aged men.”
Spotlight on the bigger problem
Despite some progress, the case highlights the difficulties athletes face when it comes to mental health, the Süddeutsche Zeitung contends:
“In many areas there are pyschological counselling services. But in general, mental health aspects aren't given the attention they deserve. Yet the demand is immense. In an anonymous survey carried out by the German Sports Aid Foundation a few years ago, ten percent of German athletes said they suffered from depression, eating disorders or burn-out syndrome. The real number is probably even higher, because 40 percent of the participants didn't answer this question at all. We should now take advantage of Osaka's example to take a much closer look at these many cases.”