Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the French Open after receiving a $15,000 fine for refusing to take questions from the media.
“Hey everyone, this isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago,” she wrote in a Monday statement, referring to the controversy she sparked with her decision not to talk to press at the tournament. “I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris.”
The post Osaka mentions is one she put up on Instagram on Thursday, explaining that she wanted to avoid the media at the French Open for the sake of her mental health. “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,” she wrote in the now-deleted post. She’d included two examples of interviews that showed athletes bristling at reporters’ questions and drawing attention to the unfairness of the contractural requirement that they speak to the media or else get fined.
Osaka elaborated on her own reasoning for dodging reporters, which she said had to do with social anxiety and the “long bouts of depression” she’s experienced since the 2018 U.S. Open.
“So here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences,” she explained. “I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that. I wrote privately to the tournament apologizing and saying I would be more than happy to speak with them after the tournament as the Slams are intense.”
With that, Osaka, the number two ranked women’s tennis player in the world, announced she would be taking “some time away from the court.”
It’s an enormous loss—and for what? Punishing athletes for not speaking to the press is cruel and exploitative, especially when they decline to do so for reasons having to do with mental health. And it’s often athletes or color who face the harshest judgments and penalties from athletic organizations: In 2019, Serena Williams was informally banned from wearing a black catsuit she wore at the 2018 French Open, which she said helped with circulation and preventing blood clots. “You have to respect the game and the place,” Bernard Giudicelli, president of the French Tennis Federation, told Tennis Magazine at the time.
“Anger is a lack of understanding,” Osaka wrote in a tweet on Sunday, seemingly referencing the backlash she was facing herself. “Change makes people uncomfortable.”