In May, tennis superstar Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open over her refusal to subject herself to press conferences after her matches. Citing her need to protect her mental health, the four-time Grand Slam champ admitted that media interviews are often harmful and exacerbate her crippling social anxiety.
“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 on social media. “We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.
“I’ve watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room and I know you have as well,” she continued. “I believe that whole situation is kicking a person while [they’re] down and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.”
Fast forward to the Tokyo Olympics, and now U.S. swimmer Simone Manuel, who has been open about her battle with burnout and depression throughout her Olympic career, is keeping that same energy but taking her qualms with the press to them directly. On Thursday, the five-time Olympic medalist took to Twitter and stood up for her fellow competitors.
“Please stop interviewing athletes right after a disappointing performance before they have any time to process anything. Trust me,” she tweeted. “They gave it their all. Nothing else people need to know at that time.”
Manuel’s comments come after Simone Biles was subjected to harsh scrutiny after she withdrew from several events in Tokyo citing safety and mental health concerns. And while Biles received a generous outpouring of support to offset the criticism, she also had to face the media in a distressed state and explain her decision.
Manuel can relate to all of this because after failing to medal in the 50-meter freestyle last week (she finished 11th), she was forced to explain her lackluster performance before she could even fully process what had transpired.
“It’s hard to work so hard for something and not see the results pay off,” she said immediately following the event. “The swim I had was my best today, but it’s not representative of my potential.”
Unfortunately for her, those are the exact soundbites that media members purposely probe for because of their potential to go viral. But in light of Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open and subsequent incidents involving the media, hopefully a common ground can be established.