This column appears on the JAPAN Forward website.

[ODDS and EVENS] Naomi Osaka Could Do Far More Good by Engaging, Not Boycotting the Media

Refusing to participate in interviews at the French Open isn’t a logical way to promote mental health advocacy. It’s an important issue, but Osaka damages her reputation by shying away from press coverage.

By Ed Odeven

Naomi Osaka is the world’s highest-paid female athlete and one of the sports world’s most visible stars.

At 23 years old, the four-time Grand Slam singles champion enjoys global celebrity and a growing portfolio of sponsorship deals. She’s also an important role model for girls, young women and biracial athletes around the world.

Osaka should be commended for speaking out against police brutality and racism, and for establishing her Play Academy, first in Tokyo, and then in Haiti and Los Angeles. But she should be criticized for announcing that she’ll refuse to speak to reporters during the French Open, which begins this weekend. She cited mental health as the reason for her planned boycott. 

There are other ways to promote the importance of mental health, especially by being available during press gatherings. A boycott is perhaps the worst way to do so. In fact, by participating in various news conferences during the French Open, Osaka, who earned $55 million USD in the past year, all but $5 million of which was from endorsements, could spark more coverage of mental health, not less, by keeping it in the news day after day.

It’s no coincidence that the world’s second-ranked player announced she’ll give reporters ー all of them ー the silent treatment during the two-week extravaganza in Paris. After all, she has never won a tournament on clay. 

Osaka is telling the global media that she’s dictating the rules, at least for now, and the terms of interaction, hinting that she doesn’t want to be subjected to potentially aggressive questioning after her next loss, which presumably will happen early in the tournament.

This is a bad precedent. And all of Osaka’s coaches, business associates and other relevant personnel should tell her that if they haven’t already.

Part of being a pro athlete is a responsibility to treat the press with respect. Widespread news coverage has played a huge role in Osaka’s rise to stardom, which has piqued sponsors’ interest in her, leading to tens of millions of dollars in endorsement deals for her.

In tennis, the pressure of competing on different surfaces (hard court, grass and clay) can lead to frustration and stress for athletes who don’t enjoy success.

But, again, being a pro athlete comes with certain job-related tasks, not the least of which is interacting with journalists during a tournament.


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