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Naomi Osaka in Time: ‘OK to not be OK’

May 30, 2021; Paris, France; Naomi Osaka (JPN) enters the court for her match against Patricia Maria Tig (ROU) at Roland Garros Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

Naomi Osaka hopes her public tussle with mental health and anxiety issues proves it’s “OK to not be OK.”

Osaka wrote an essay for Time detailing the impact of anxiety on her as a person and tennis pro, which came to light when she was fined for skipping a press conference at the French Open. Osaka responded by withdrawing from the Grand Slam event.

“The intention was never to inspire revolt, but rather to look critically at our workplace and ask if we can do better,” she wrote.

Osaka, 23, suggested tennis players and athletes be granted “sick days” when they aren’t feeling up to meeting with media or other obligations. Among athletes and notable personalities who reached out to her in recent weeks were men’s tennis star Novak Djokovic, former First Lady Michele Obama, U.S. Olympic swim legend Michael Phelps and NBA All-Star Stephen Curry.

“Michael Phelps told me that by speaking up I may have saved a life. If that’s true, then it was all worth it,” the four-time Grand Slam champion wrote.

“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. I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s O.K. to not be O.K., and it’s O.K. to talk about it. There are people who can help, and there is usually light at the end of any tunnel.”

Osaka, ranked No. 2 in the world, is not participating in Wimbledon and her return to the court is uncertain. She said she’s still dealing with the fallout and reality of her decision.

Part of that reality is an obligation for regular media availability, as is required in most professional sports. Wimbledon officials said they attempted to meet with Osaka and discussed altering arrangements and schedules for press conferences.

“I communicated that I wanted to skip press conferences at Roland Garros to exercise self-care and preservation of my mental health,” she wrote. “I stand by that. Athletes are humans. Tennis is our privileged profession, and of course there are commitments off the court that coincide. But I can’t imagine another profession where a consistent attendance record (I have missed one press conference in my seven years on tour) would be so harshly scrutinized.”

–Field Level Media