Sometimes, when you’re depressed, the best thing you can do for yourself is to push yourself to do the thing you most dread. Other times, though, the best thing you can do is to avoid that anxiety-causing thing altogether — cancel that appointment, turn down that work assignment, whatever it is — and take refuge in a place that’s safe for you. Even if some people think you’re being a diva about it.
That’s what tennis star Naomi Osaka did last week, announcing that she would not be doing any interviews with the press while she was competing in the French Open. The officials, who consider dealing with the press to be part of the duties of the players, fined her some $15,000; a few days later she dropped out of the French Open entirely to protect her mental health.
Surprisingly, the fans and the press didn’t turn on her for this decision, recognizing that for Osaka the press duties were harder than playing tennis in the first place, and that when you’re dealing with depression — the malady Osake is dealing with — it’s best to avoid those things that you know will trigger that depression. Indeed, many in the press praised Osake for her courage in standing up for herself, damn the consequences, and suggested that her actions could help to inspire more serious discussions about athletes and their mental health, particularly when it involves things other than simply playing the game as best you can.
Osake is a professional tennis player, after all, not a press secretary, and post-game interviews are generally unproductive and a waste of time for all concerned. How much sense does it make to grit one’s teeth and go ahead with something that makes you miserable, that’s somewhat pointless, and that doesn’t reflect your real skills as an athlete.
There were, however, some who didn’t get the memo on this, and they stepped forth to mock and criticize Osaka’s actions based on the premise that as a sports star you need to do whatever unpleasant shit is loaded on to you, regardless of your health, physical and/or mental. These are the people who think the point of sports is suffering and sacrifice, and the more they can add to this burden on athletes, the better.
Here are a few examples of these unreconstructed views. (I’ve bolded the worst insults.)
First, let’s take a look a professional asshole and TV personality Piers Morgan. who went all-out in a column for the Daily Mail, attacking “Narcissistic Naomi” for what the headline of his piece described as her “cynical exploitation of mental health to silence the media.”
He also called her
an arrogant spoiled brat whose fame and fortune appears to have inflated her ego to gigantic proportions.
There’s more! He also also called her “petulant” and denounced her statements about her mental health as an “orgy [!?] of narcissistic twaddle.”
He ended with:
And I’m sorry (not really…) if this offends any of the delicate little snowflakes out there who believe all this self-serving garbage, but Osaka’s antics stink of a stupendous ego raging out control.
Well, Morgan would certainly know all about having a “stupendous ego raging out of control.”
On to daffy right-wing ideologue Candace Owens, who tweeted:
Several hours later, perhaps sensing that the winds weren’t blowing her way on this issue, Owens did a quick reverse, declaring that
Naomi Osaka made the right decision. Mental illness is serious and it is always an act of courage to step away to deal with personal issues. Emphasis on the word personal
Whatever that last bit means.
Now: Sports talker Ben Maller, who declared that she was “no hero” but rather
a villain in this story … she ended up taking a spot from some up-and-coming tennis player that could have made their mark at Roland Garros … That makes this a selfish act by Naomi Osaka, and making it all about herself … those are the actions of a spoiled brat.
Australian sports writer Will Swanton, who called her a “diva” and blasted what he called her “immaturity, preciousness and hypocrisy.”
Trailblazer? Come off it. Try princess. … Osaka has begun to think of herself as above the sport. … Her stance is petulant; not even Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have been so uppity.
UK sports writer Oliver Brown, who said he had to read her statement
several times before being convinced it was not a parody. … But it would be difficult to imagine a more risible example of athlete entitlement than this little speech, or a more needlessly-wounding PR own goal. … her actions represent less a mental health crusade than diva-esque behaviour at its worst.
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch also went with “diva.”
Naomi Osaka is just a diva now. She could have meant so much more. She was going to be the face of women’s sports, tennis’ transition from Serena Williams, and a social justice warrior. Instead, well, she’s full of BS, just like so many others who made too much money, became too famous too fast, became too full of themselves and lost touch with reality.
Athletes taking care of their mental heath as best they know how is certainly preferable to listening to these patronizing and even somewhat sadistic views. Sports is about sports; it shouldn’t be about punishing athletes by forcing them to play with injuries or to indulge in draining and depressing publicity work at the very moment they are winding down from playing the game. Osaka is being courageous to put her mental health first, and I hope many others follow in her footsteps.
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