It was a week of emotional turmoil for tennis star Naomi Osaka as she withdrew from the French Open in Paris on Monday (May 31) after initially deciding to boycott post-match media duties.
The 23-year-old took to Instagram to explain her decision. Citing mental health as the main reason why she would not do any news conferences, the world number two revealed in her post that she found it stressful to always try to engage and give journalists the best answers.
She added, “Here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the news conferences.”
The real question is: Was it better for her – and for women around the world?
Here are what women could learn from Osaka’s public confession.
1. IT IS OKAY TO PUT YOURSELF FIRST
The hard rule of self-care is the notion of putting your wellbeing first without the nagging guilt that you are a horrible person.
Osaka understood that the term mental health should never be taken lightly and placed emphasis on her experience.
“The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a hard time coping with that,” Osaka confessed in her post.
2. IT IS POSSIBLE TO THINK FOR OTHERS IN YOUR SUFFERING
The concept of self-care has also been confused with the idea of caring for oneself without the thought for others.
Yet, despite the immense pressure on her young shoulders, Osaka had started her public statement on social media with a selfless explanation.
She described her predicament as something she had not “ever imagined” or “intended”. Osaka went on to say that her withdrawal was the best thing for the tournament, other players and her wellbeing “so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris”.
3. BE HUMBLE ENOUGH TO SAY SORRY
A four-time Grand Slam singles winner. Highest earning female athlete in history. One of the world’s most popular spokesmodels.
Yet again, her extremely outstanding credentials did not stop her from bowing down publicly to a system that appears to have let her down.
“I wrote privately to the tournament apologising and saying that I would be more than happy to speak to them after the tournament as the Slams are intense,” Osaka explained.
4. CHOOSING TO OPEN UP COULD OFFER STRENGTH TO OTHER WOMEN WHO NEED IT
For women around the world, speaking up has historically been looked upon as a taboo and a sign of weakness. Though heightened concerns of abuse by perpetrators or the public continue to remain prevalent, speaking up will enable others who are facing similar issues to feel less alone.
Mary Cain, the youngest runner to join the World Championship team at 17 years old, told The New York Times on Jun 1 that when athletes are not protected, they should be able to make choices that protect themselves.
“It’s like saying you don’t want to be with a company that doesn’t treat you well,” Cain illustrated.
But for Osaka, it has not only opened new channels for open discussions on mental health, her statement has also become a voice for young female athletes who had chosen to suffer in silence.
Her message is loud and clear: No job in the world is worth your mental health.
5. IT IS OKAY TO TAKE A BREAK AND DISCUSS SOLUTIONS ONLY WHEN READY
In a society where speedy responses are often glorified, Osaka taught us a lesson or two on the importance of walking away but coming back to it stronger.
“I am going to take time away from court, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans,” Osaka added.
Since penning down her announcement on social media, Osaka has received massive support from the public and athletes worldwide. Fellow tennis star Sloane Stephens supported Osaka’s decision and commented, “We are behind you baby girl, take the time you need!”
Other world-famous male athletes the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Usain Bolt and Brooklyn Nets basketball star Kyrie Irving also typed in their encouragements. “We are all with you, Queen. Just be you, that will always be enough,” Irving said.
Whether she attends news conferences or not, it appears that Naomi Osaka could just be the female spokesmodel we need to champion self-care.