Naomi Osaka announces French Open media blackout, citing mental health concerns

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·4-min read

Naomi Osaka has no plans to speak with reporters during the French Open.

The three-time Grand Slam champion announced Wednesday that she will not do any media availability while competing at Roland Garros, citing mental health concerns for herself and fellow players.

Her full statement:

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PARIS, FRANCE May 26. Naomi Osaka of Japan during practice on Court Philippe-Chatrier during a practice match against Ashleigh Barty of Australia  in preparation for the 2021 French Open Tennis Tournament at Roland Garros on May 2pm 6th 2021 in Paris, France. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
Naomi Osaka has spoken out about mental health in the past. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

The crux of Osaka's concerns:

"I've often felt that people have no regard for athletes [sic] mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one. We're often sat there and asked questions that we've been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I'm just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me."

Osaka went on to say she has nothing personal against the French Open and some journalists with whom she has a friendly relationship, but made a pointed comment about organizations threatening to fine athletes if they don't speak to media without considering the mental health side of things.

Osaka ended the statement by conceding she'll face a "considerable amount" in fines for her decision, but hopes that money will go toward a mental health charity.

The 23-year-old Osaka will be attempting to win her first French Open title. She has +1600 odds at BetMGM of winning the tournament. Mostly known for her success on hard courts, Osaka has never advanced past the third round at Roland-Garros and missed last year's tournament due to a hamstring injury.

Fines will likely be nothing to Naomi Osaka

The 2021 official Grand Slam rulebook explicitly says that a player or team must attend post-match news conferences organized within 30 minutes of the end of their match, unless injured or physically unable to appear. A violation subjects a player to a fine of up to $20,000. 

Considering Osaka made an estimated $55.2 million last year, more than any other female athlete in the world, the fines she faces will be a relative pittance unless there is an escalation for repeat offenders.

Osaka has been open about mental health

Athletes discussing their struggles with mental health has been a growing trend over the past few years, and Osaka has been at the forefront.

Shortly after making her first major breakthrough with her 2018 win at Indian Wells, Osaka told reporters she was dealing with depression:

“Yesterday I just woke up and I was really depressed, but I don’t know why ... I was able to win two matches, but I feel like that really doesn't say I can play well on clay. It's more, I think, I'm just an OK player that was able to play OK. Like, I’m so sad right now.”

Months later, after winning first Grand Slam at the 2018 US Open, Osaka told Teen Vogue about the problems athletes can face:

"You can easily get depressed. Usually, if you play sports, you think that one match or one game is very important, and when you lose it, you think your whole world is over. I can see how easily that can turn."

Even as she speaks out on other issues, Osaka hasn't ceased discussing mental health, once ascribing a split from a coach as prioritizing her happiness over her success (she has won two Grand Slam titles since).

Kyrie Irving did something similar

The situation is not unlike the one that surrounded Kyrie Irving last December. The Brooklyn Nets guard released a statement in lieu of speaking with media before the season began and later wrote "I don't talk to pawns" when referring to the media.

The NBA wasn't amused, fining Irving and the Nets $25,000 each for the refusal. Irving eventually gave in and spoke with reporters before his season opener, but has since accrued another $35,000 in fines for ducking postgame media availabilities.

Where the situations differ is the stated motivation, as Irving — who has also taken action over mental health in the past — claimed he was skipping media availabilities because he wanted to ensure that his "message is conveyed properly." By contrast, Osaka said she is prioritizing her mental health and trying to send a message to the sport's higher-ups about their prioritization of mental health.

Both athletes, however, stated their hopes that the fine money would go to certain causes, Irving for marginalized communities and Osaka for mental health.

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