open letters

Naomi Osaka Says Press Conferences Need “A Refresh” to Protect Athletes

Naomi Osaka. Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Just over a month ago, tennis star Naomi Osaka took the mental-health break we all needed by dropping out of the French Open when tournament officials required that she speak to press. While she won’t be back on the tennis court until she represents Japan in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, Osaka returned with an open letter in Time magazine highlighting what she’s learned from the experience, but, most importantly, what the industry can take away. Osaka, 23, says she isn’t at all opposed to talking with press. On top of her Netflix docuseries, Naomi, which just released its trailer this week, Osaka says she has “given more time to press than many other players,” barring those with careers almost as old as she. “However, in my opinion (and I want to say that this is just my opinion and not that of every tennis player on tour), the press-conference format itself is out of date and in great need of a refresh,” she wrote. “I believe that we can make it better, more interesting, and more enjoyable for each side. Less subject vs. object; more peer to peer.” Some fear that other players will follow her lead and revolt, but “no one in tennis has missed a press conference since.”

“Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions,” she continued. “In any other line of work, you would be forgiven for taking a personal day here and there, so long as it’s not habitual.” There would also be more privacy protection. “In my case, I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms — frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me,” Osaka wrote candidly. “I do not wish that on anyone and hope that we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones.”

Naomi Osaka Says Press Conferences Need “A Refresh”