Naomi Osaka Has Prioritised Her Mental Health Over Work
Could her decision be the catalyst that leads to the destigmatisation mental health in sports? We take a closer look at what it means.
Last week, Naomi Osaka took an admirable decision by prioritising her mental health over her work. The number two ranked woman in tennis and the highest-paid female athlete in the world, announced on social media last week that she was skipping all news conferences during the French Open to protect her mental health.
However, the tennis star ran into a roadblock soon enough. After she didn’t participate in the mandatory news conference following her first-round win on Sunday, she was fined $15,000. This she expected, and was willing to pay, but a fine was apparently not enough. In a statement signed by the heads of all four Grand Slam tournaments – Wimbledon, the Australian Open, the U.S. Open, and the French Open – Osaka was warned that if she continued to not talk to the media, she could face suspension from future Grand Slam tournaments and even harsher penalties. However, stating that she never wanted to garner the kind of attention she got post her press-conference withdrawal, amidst backlash, Osaka chose to withdraw from the tournament altogether, announcing her decision in a statement on Instagram.
Now, many businesses, celebrities and sportspeople all over the world have come to her support. Starting with mental health and mindful meditation app, CALM, in a move that accentuates the phrase 'putting your money where your mouth is,' the app announced it would follow through on Osaka’s initial request for her fine to be donated to charity. In addition, not only is it going to pay the fine for any player who planned on opting out of media appearances for mental health reasons during the 2021 Grand Slam, but it has also stated that it would match it with a $15,000 donation to the French youth sports charity Laureus, which is a stellar move for any business.
Many celebrities, like Will Smith and Kerry Washington have also come out in support of the athlete.
Smith's vehement 'They are wrong!' also comes in light of the Grand Slam tournaments' reaction, which was insensitive at best, horrifying at worst. Even more so, their reaction is a huge wake up call when it comes to the stigmatisation of mental health in the workplace, especially in the field of sports. Athletes are humans, not machines, and can’t possibly be their best at all times. They need to be given space and time for self care or to see a professional when they need it. Osaka's public decision has been seen as a sort of a turning point for talking about mental health for sportspeople, as there has been a wave of support for her. Many athletes, such as Michael Phelps, who have been vocal about their own mental health struggles, are viewing her decision as a catalyst for more conversations, perhaps even a destigmatisation of mental illnesses when it comes to athletes.
But is that something that's feasible in a country like India? Since we deify our sportspeople, and treat them like Gods, one would think that the thought of them having a mental illness is beyond the realm of possibility. However, sportspeople who essentially have celebrity have actually been pretty vocal about their mental health issues; for instance, Virat Kohli revealed that in 2014, he'd struggled with mental health issues, while PV Sindhu also spoke out about her depression. But the fact remains – if individuals learn to prioritise their own mental health in the workplace, and workplaces support that decision, including financially, the world could be a much better place for people who struggle with mental health problems. Osaka's decision isn't the first, and hopefully, won't be the last in taking a stance for their own self, and will possibly bring a refreshing wave of change in the sports world.