In a vulnerable essay published by the Times, Japanese tennis player, Naomi Osaka, said she felt pressured to share the personal details of her struggle with mental health because people didn’t believe she was being truthful.
The 24-year-old tennis superstar first faced scrutiny when she pulled out of the French Open, which cost her $15,000 for not participating in required media involvement. She told the press that she withdrew from the competition to preserve her mental state of being. Upon this proclamation, she faced backlash from the press and fans.
“In my case, I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms — frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me,” said Osaka in her essay. She continued on to say, “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.”
Upon explaining that athletes are held to a different standard when it comes to mental health-related symptoms, she stated that athletes deserve, “the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions.”
In addition, she included, “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.”
Naomi Osaka says she is ‘uncomfortable’ with representing athletes with mental health conditions
Undoubtedly, the world of professional athleticism asks a lot out of athletes. Osaka recognizes this in her statement but also offered that she does not want the responsibility of being the spokesperson for mental health.
“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,” explained the young tennis player. She also added that she is, “naturally introverted and [does] not court the spotlight,” and that speaking up for what she believes is right, “often comes at a cost of great anxiety.”
Additionally, she included the powerful sentiment, “I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to talk about it. There are people who can help, and there is usually light at the end of any tunnel.”
The athlete also pulled out of the Wimbledon tournament in order to focus on bettering herself. According to Osaka, it is going well. She said, “After taking the past few weeks to recharge and spend time with my loved ones, I have had the time to reflect, but also to look forward. I could not be more excited to play in Tokyo. An Olympic Games itself is special, but to have the opportunity to play in front of Japanese fans is a dream come true. I hope I can make them proud.”
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