Naomi Osaka and the Art of Playing Ball 

Note: This article was not written or endorsed by Christelyn Karazin, Nicole or any other writers on the blog.


I am not a big sports fan, but every so often, news stories come to my attention. Of course, with the Olympics and World Cup around the corner, I am trying to pay more attention to any sports updates. I recently wrote an article about the importance of playing ball. It looks like this lesson is something that we can observe in real-time with Naomi Osaka, Gwen Berry and Sha’Carri Richardson. Without further ado, let us look at those case studies and see what we can learn from each situation. 


Naomi Osaka has been a household name for the last year, particularly when she managed to beat the legendary Serena Williams. On May 27, Naomi made waves recently with the announcement, via Instagram, that she would no longer participate in interviews during the 2021 French Open. (The link above provides a very detailed breakdown of the situation, but I will provide a brief summary.) When she followed through on her promise to avoid speaking with the press, she was fined $15,000 and was threatened with disqualification or suspension if such behaviour continued. By the end of that month, Naomi had quit the event entirely. 


Naomi Osaka made the news again in June 2021 when she decided not to attend the Wimbledon tournament either, choosing to spend personal time with her friends and family. However, she does plan to represent her birth family, Japan, in the Olympics. Before I start any critique, I would like to say that I have enjoyed keeping tabs on her life and career, and I wish her all the best in her future endeavours. 


That said, I cannot imagine what she was thinking with regards to handling the French Open situation. Please do not misunderstand me here. I have much sympathy for anyone facing mental health issues. Many of you know that both Nicole and I have shared articles on mental health and therapy. We want to be sure to encourage and support you all on that journey as best we can. This article is not necessarily about what happened, but how things came about. 


I mentioned that after Naomi’s announcement, there was a response from all four Grand Slam tournaments on May 30th. They stated the following:  “Naomi Osaka today chose not to honour her contractual media obligations. The Roland-Garros referee has therefore issued her a $15,000 fine, in keeping with article III H. of the Code of Conduct. The mental health of players competing in our tournaments and on the Tours is of the utmost importance to the Grand Slams.”


Now, the way these institutions handled things was extremely high-handed. I think a warning, a statement, and a meeting behind the scenes could have worked before issuing such a large fine. That said, they do have a leg to stand on. If there is one thing I have learned from a decade of Judge Judy, it’s that you cannot modify a written agreement without a written addendum that is signed and agreed upon by both parties. There was a contractual agreement to fulfil media obligations, and Naomi had agreed to said terms. They also cited fairness for all athletes, which is technically true, but I have been aware of many past times in which tennis organizations have taken pains to target certain athletes for rules and codes of conduct over others, namely, the Williams sisters


Again, as a player in someone else’s tournament, you have to play by their rules… even if their rules are ridiculous. I’m sure we can all remember many press conferences with sports journalists asking the most awkward and embarrassing questions to athletes, in some kind of perverse sense of entertainment. It must be very difficult and frustrating to go through, particularly when the game did not go your way. 


Let us take this situation as a Pink Pill lesson. How could Naomi have navigated things differently? How can we approach a situation when we are facing anxiety or other mental health issues? 


Ask for Help

I wonder if any discussion had occurred behind the scenes, prior to Naomi’s announcement and the resulting fallout. Could some compromise have been reached? I wonder if Naomi and her team could have spoken with the event organizers and come to an arrangement. Could she have done promotional activities or engagements instead of these interviews? We will never know. However, like supplicants, or individuals with less power at the negotiation table, we need to find ways to get what we want, while offering a favourable outcome to the greater power.


Get Appropriate Support

We are big supporters of taking care of your mental health on the blog. As you tackle various tasks, it makes sense to find someone to walk beside you. In the workplace, asking for help can be quite beneficial. As I navigate my work journey, I find that people enjoy talking about sharing their knowledge, which builds rapport and connection. It also makes you look like more of a team player. (By the way, it doesn’t even matter if you know how to do something. Letting someone else help can make them feel important.) Finally, you get the help you need. You get solutions, tips and strategies. You can ease your workload. Everybody wins. In Naomi’s case, maybe a support staff during interviews, or therapy on the side could have help things along as well. I would be interested to know what options tennis players have to support their mental health.


Take the Time You Need

Sometimes, it’s best to just take a step back. It is okay to pause. It is okay to rest. It is okay to leave something for a moment, or a season, regroup and try things again. Ultimately, I think Naomi made the right decision and graciously stepped out of the competition. She received waves of support for her situation, and I do wish her the best with her recovery and continued success in her career. Thankfully, Naomi’s star power and athletic prowess should hold her for now. We will continue to monitor the situation. 


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