Tennis star Naomi Osaka stood by her decision to withdraw from the French Open in a new essay, while also advocating for athletes to be able to take breaks from media scrutiny.
Osaka wrote in an essay published in Time magazine on Thursday that she has been able to “recharge” after spending time with loved ones since deciding last month to also skip Wimbledon.
That decision came weeks after thee Japanese tennis star pulled out of the French Open after she was fined for refusing to speak to the press in what she said was an effort to preserve her mental health.
In her essay, Osaka said bluntly, “Athletes are humans.”
“Tennis is our privileged profession, and of course there are commitments off the court that coincide. But I can’t imagine another profession where a consistent attendance record (I have missed one press conference in my seven years on tour) would be so harshly scrutinized,” Osaka said.
“Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions,” she said.
“In any other line of work, you would be forgiven for taking a personal day here and there, so long as it’s not habitual. You wouldn’t have to divulge your most personal symptoms to your employer; there would likely be HR measures protecting at least some level of privacy,” she continued.
Osaka said in her case she felt a “great amount of pressure” to disclose her symptoms, which she chalked up to “the press and the tournament” not believing her earlier this year when she cited her mental health as reason for refusing to speak to press at the French Open.
“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,” she said as she prepares to compete in the coming Olympics Games in Tokyo.
Osaka proposed athletes be allowed a “small number of sick days” annually that lets them be excused from their “press commitments without having to disclose your personal reasons” in an effort to “bring sport in line with the rest of society.”
“It has become apparent to me that literally everyone either suffers from issues related to their mental health or knows someone who does. The number of messages I received from such a vast cross section of people confirms that. I think we can almost universally agree that each of us is a human being and subject to feelings and emotions,” she wrote.
She also thanked figures like Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaWe must mount an all-country response to help our Afghan allies Obamas, Bushes and Clintons joining new effort to help Afghan refugees Bidens, former presidents mark 9/11 anniversary MORE, Michael Phelps, Steph Curry, Novak Djokovic, Meghan MarkleMeghan MarkleRoyal family supports BLM movement, senior representative says Culture editor Emily Jashinsky says groups like Time's Up pose conflicts of interest UK media watchdog clears Piers Morgan over Meghan remarks MORE for offering support.
“Believe it or not, I am naturally introverted and do not court the spotlight. I always try to push myself to speak up for what I believe to be right, but that often comes at a cost of great anxiety. I feel uncomfortable being the spokesperson or face of athlete mental health as it’s still so new to me and I don’t have all the answers,” she said.
“I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s O.K. to not be O.K., and it’s O.K. to talk about it,” she continued. “There are people who can help, and there is usually light at the end of any tunnel.”
“Michael Phelps told me that by speaking up I may have saved a life. If that’s true, then it was all worth it,” she added.