Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka has left a press conference in tears as she admitted she is unsure how to find a balance between the privilege of her global platform and struggling with the mandatory media obligations on tour.
- Naomi Osaka has repeatedly spoken about how some media obligations affect her mental health
- She withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon over the issue
- Osaka has pledged to donate her prize money from the Western and Southern Open to relief for the earthquake in Haiti
Before the French Open, Osaka said her mental health was adversely impacted by certain lines of questioning and announced she would not do post-match press conferences at the second major of the year.
She ultimately withdrew from the tournament and Wimbledon over the issue after a backlash and threats of fines or suspensions.
While the softly spoken world number two has spoken of her dislike for press conferences, she uses social media to advocated for issues like mental health and social justice, and recently pledged to donate her Western and Southern Open prize money to Haiti earthquake relief.
On Tuesday (AEST), a local Cincinnati reporter asked her how she balances her huge media profile while not liking speaking to reporters.
The world number two said she was “very interested in that point of view” and teared up as she tried to formulate an answer.
“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,” Osaka, who is of Japanese-Haitian heritage, said.
“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 and I know that it’s because I’ve won a couple of grand slams and I’ve gotten to do a lot of press conferences.
“But I would also say I’m not really sure how to balance the two. I’m figuring it out at the same time as you are, I would say.”
She also said one of her biggest issues with the current format of players’ press obligations was the timing, suggesting that having to front the media immediately after a win or loss was not ideal.
After the exchange, she wiped away tears and pulled her cap over her eyes to hide her face before the moderator called for a pause to proceedings.
Osaka left the room briefly but returned to complete the news conference and even apologised for walking out of the virtual press conference.
Osaka’s agent Stuart Duguid condemned the reporter’s line of questioning.
“The bully at the Cincinnati Enquirer is the epitome of why player/media relations are so fraught right now,” Duguid said.
“And this insinuation that Naomi owes her off-court success to the media is a myth — don’t be so self-indulgent.”
The exchange highlighted the challenges Osaka faces as one of the world’s most famous athletes.
Osaka has revealed she has struggled with depression for a number of years, which can be exacerbated by questions from the media.
After losing in the second round at the Tokyo Olympics, where she was given the honour of lighting the flame at the opening ceremony, she admitted she felt the weight of the expectations placed on her.
The reporter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The 23-year-old Japanese player has used her platform to call attention to mental health issues and said she has felt supported by her fellow athletes.
“The biggest eye opener was going to the Olympics and having other athletes come up to me and say they were really glad that I did what I did,” she said.
“I’m proud of what I did and I think that it was something that needed to be done.”