Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka announced that she won’t take part in press interviews while at the French Open this year—even though she will likely be fined. And it’s a decision that’s fueled partly by a need to protect her mental health, Osaka explained in social media posts.
“I’m writing this to say I’m not going to do any press during Roland Garros,” Osaka wrote in a statement posted on Twitter and Instagram. “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 writes that athletes are often asked questions that they’ve been asked many times before as well as “questions that bring doubt into our minds, and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.” In particular, 23-year-old Osaka said she doesn’t understand why those interviews need to happen during particularly difficult times for athletes. “I’ve watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room and I know you have as well,” she wrote. “I believe that whole situation is kicking a person while they’re down and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.”
Osaka also included two clips with her post on Instagram. The first is a part of an interview with a young Venus Williams who answers confidently, “I know I can beat her,” referring to an upcoming match. But the interviewer goes on to question Williams’ confidence and comments that she “says it so easily.” Then Williams’ father and coach, Richard, interrupts and reminds the interviewer that he’s dealing with the confidence and self-image of a 14-year-old Black girl and tells him to “leave that alone.”
That interview took place in the mid-90s, and it’s frustrating to realize how little has changed since then. For instance, just a few months ago, Serena Williams left a press conference in tears after getting repeated questions about her potential retirement following a loss to Osaka, Buzzfeed reported at the time. Venus and Serena were fined $4,000 each after skipping a Wimbledon press conference in 2010, the Guardian reported. And Venus commented on Osaka’s post on Instagram, saying, “Girl, do you. Your life is yours to live.”
In her statement, Osaka clarified that not doing press is “nothing personal to the tournament,” she does have friendly relationships with some journalists, and she knows that she’ll be fined a “considerable amount” for not participating in interviews while at the competition. But ultimately she hopes that her fine “will go towards a mental health charity.”