Naomi Osaka, the number two ranked women’s tennis player in the world, will be competing in this year’s French Open tournament under one very specific condition. Osaka wrote in a statement on her Instagram page that she would not be taking any questions from the press or sitting down for the usual post-match press conferences that have become a staple of the big tournaments. Osaka’s reasoning is simple, she writes, “I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one.”
Osaka also added that she is tired of getting the same questions over and over again and questions that put “doubt” in her mind and she no longer wants to subject herself to people that doubt her. Notably, the post containing Osaka’s statement also had two videos that underscored her point about how press can poison an athlete’s mental state before or after a game.
The first is the infamous interview of a young Venus Williams whose confidence was challenged by a reporter when she simply stated that she believed she could beat her opponent. Williams was saved by her father, who cut off the interviewer to put him in his place. The second slide is of former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who attended a press conference ahead of Superbowl XLIV and answered every question with, “I’m here so I won’t get fined.”
The decision to forgo press questions might feel like a letdown to fans who’ve come to enjoy Osaka’s serene personality as much as her actual playing, but it is very much in line with the ethos that has made her such a beloved player. Osaka has consistently put real-life issues such as racism, mental health, and pay equity before the game, and even after a loss her message is crystal clear. She wants to be, and most importantly be seen, as more than just a tennis player.