Much has been said about Naomi Osaka’s decision to pull out of the French Open over concerns about her own mental health. In recent days, Serena Williams and other athletes have voiced their support for the four-time Grand Slam champ and in turn, discussions about the strain of professional work environments and the toll they can take on our emotional well-being have become more pervasive.
On Tuesday, Venus Williams offered her own perspective on the discussion, and while she empathizes with Osaka’s plight, made it abundantly clear that she refuses to allow the media to spell her doom.
“For me personally, how I deal with it was that I know that every single person asking me a question can’t play as well as I can and never will,” the 40-year-old said. “So no matter what you say, or what you write, you’ll never light a candle to me. That’s how I deal with it. But each person deals with it differently.”
Her sister, Serena, kept that same energy when she spoke to reporters after her match on Monday.
“I feel for Naomi. Not everyone is the same. I’m thick. Other people are thin. Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently,” Serena said. “You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to and the best way she thinks she can. That’s the only thing I can say: I think she is doing the best she can.”
For those who believe the Williams sisters adopted this approach as they began to excel in their respective careers, thanks in part to their father, Richard, they’ve actually been riding this train for almost as long as they’ve been in the public eye.
As a member of the media myself, I’m acutely aware of both the responsibility and power we wield in influencing public opinion based on how we relay information to the general public. If Osaka doesn’t want to subject herself to the scrutiny that comes with being a professional athlete, she’s well within her right to do so. But unfortunately, she can’t have it both ways since athletes are contractually obligated to engage with the media.
These divergent paths collided on Sunday when the 23-year-old was assessed a $15,000 fine after she refused to speak to the media following her match with 63rd-ranked Patricia Maria Tig in the opening round of the French Open. Osaka would then withdrawal from the tournament entirely after she was threatened with further sanctions should her media blackout continue.
It’s unclear when Osaka will return to the sport, if ever, but these circumstances have served as a springboard for much-needed discourse surrounding the importance of protecting our emotional well-being.