There is a tendency to assign super status to athletes. Those who can run faster, throw harder, and otherwise excel at activities that the rest of us can’t, why they must be a cut above, not subject to the same pressures and problems of ordinary mortals.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Super athletes put on their pants one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. They are ordinary people, who happen to be blessed with athletic skills. But they are otherwise regular folks, subject to the same pressures the rest of us face every day.
Which brings us to Naomi Osaka.
The French Open Tennis Championship was thrown into a frenzy last week when Osaka, the sport’s reigning superstar, walked away from the event after winning her first match. It had nothing to do with the competition. Rather it was a problem within her, an issue that showed her to be a very normal, ordinary person.
Osaka is a quiet, introverted individual, who happens to be blessed with extraordinary tennis talents. Serves and volleys were no problem. From time to time, she deals with depression, a debilitating, nasty condition. Osaka was fine on the court. But the required post-match media press conferences were her undoing.
So she took a stand. Before the competition began, Osaka announced that she would be doing no press, no questions and answers. Her play would speak for itself.
Tournament authorities were outraged as well as officials from the other Grand Slam events. If she persisted, there would be fines, disqualifications, suspensions. She was fined $15,000 when she did not appear at her first French Open presser. That will teach her for standing up for herself.
Osaka then took her position a step farther. She walked away from the tournament.
Media press conferences are part of the landscape in sports. They serve to bring the athletes up close and personal to the fans. They are, however, often an exercise in foolishness.
Tracy Austin once spent five minutes in a U.S. Open press conference discussing her tennis dress with a writer. Another time, Mary Pierce was asked if she had seen the movie “There’s Something About Mary.’’ She had not but what did that have to do with the tennis match?
Osaka was having none of that. She is dealing with a serious personal problem that is made worse in those media sessions. So she handled it in a very sensible manner. She walked away.
The tennis officials were effusive in their support for the sport’s reigning star. They said they will support her and try to help her through her personal issues.
They might start by returning that $15,000 fine.