With the Olympics just a few weeks away, all eyes will be on Naomi Osaka who is poised to make her return to tennis after withdrawing from Wimbledon and the French Open. It comes at a time where Osaka has used her platform to champion mental health, something so rarely spoken about in the world of professional sport. When, just weeks earlier, Osaka pre-emptively told French Open organisers she would not be doing any press during the tournament as a result of her mental health, the organisers missed an opportunity to show greater leadership. Instead, they fined Osaka and threatened to penalise her further in the future. It ultimately led to Osaka withdrawing from the tournament completely.
In an essay penned for Time’s Olympic preview issue, the four-time grand slam has spoken at length about mental health and where she received support. Osaka writes that she hopes “we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones,” and goes further to suggest that they be allowed to sometimes skip media obligations without punishment.
“There can be moments for any of us where we are dealing with issues behind the scenes,” said Osaka. “Each of us as humans is going through something on some level.”
Revealing the depression she has suffered from since her first grand-slam win and being thrust into the spotlight, Osaka wrote: “Believe it or not, I am naturally introverted and do not court the spotlight.” She added, “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.”
In her essay, Osaka also thanked those who had voiced their support and offered words of advice and encouragement to her. “I want to thank everyone who supported me. There are too many to name, but I want to start with my family and friends, who have been amazing. There is nothing more important than those relationships. I also want to thank those in the public eye who have supported, encouraged and offered such kind words. Michelle Obama, Michael Phelps, Steph Curry, Novak Djokovic, Meghan Markle, to name a few.”
As Osaka wrote, “It has become apparent to me that literally everyone either suffers from issues related to their mental health or knows someone who does,” before adding, “I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s OK to not be OK, and it’s OK to talk about it.”