Naomi Osaka is talking to the press again, but it still seems to be an anxiety-inducing experience for the tennis star.
Nearly three months after getting fined for not speaking to reporters and withdrawing from the French Open for her mental health, Osaka broke into tears during a Monday news conference at the Western & Southern Open. Her response came when a reporter asked her how she’s reconciled her aversion to giving interviews with the fact that she’s “served by having a media platform.”
“When you say I’m not crazy about dealing with you guys, what does that refer to?” Osaka replied, according to the New York Times.
The reporter, The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Paul Daugherty, clarified: “Well, you’ve said you don’t especially like the news conference format, yet that seems to be obviously the most widely used means of communicating to the media and through the media to the public.”
“Ever since I was younger I have had a lot of media interest on me, and I think it’s because of my background, as well as how I play, because in the first place I’m a tennis player,” Osaka began to respond. “That’s why a lot of people are interested in me, so I would say in that regards I am quite different to a lot of people. And I can’t really help that there are some things that I tweet or some things that I say that kind of create a lot of news articles or things like that.”
The two went back and forth again for a minute, with Osaka answering Daugherty’s questions, but after the exchange was over she started to cry. She reportedly left the press room for five minutes to collect herself before returning with an apology. “Sorry for walking out,” she told reporters.
Later, Osaka’s agent, Stuart Duguid, accused Daugherty of asking the question with the “sole purpose” of intimidating the tennis player. “The bully at The Cincinnati Enquirer is the epitome of why player/media relations are so fraught right now,” he told the Times in a text.
It’s often the task of a reporter to ask difficult and sensitive questions of their interview subjects, and this can be one of the more off-putting parts of the job—it may have been nothing more insidious than that, though I don’t know Daugherty or what he’s like. (During their conversation, Osaka also told the Enquirer reporter that she was “actually interested in that point of view” and asked him to repeat his question so she could answer it more clearly.)
Nonetheless, Osaka’s reaction to his question seems to disprove the assumption at its core. Osaka may benefit from having a media platform in one sense—it helps her boost her cultural influence and reach—but in another sense, she doesn’t appear to be served by it at all, particularly when it comes to her emotional well-being.
Before she took the five-minute break at the press conference, Osaka told reporters she was proud of herself for making the decision to step back from the French Open. “It was something I needed to do for myself,” she said. “And more than anything I felt like I holed up in my house for a couple of weeks and I was a little bit embarrassed to go out because I didn’t know if people were looking at me in a different way ...
“But I think the biggest eye-opener was going to the Olympics and having other athletes come up to me and say that they were really glad that I did what I did,” she continued. “So after all that, I’m proud of what I did, and I think it was something that needed to be done.”