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Naomi Osaka refuses to do press at French Open, citing importance of mental health

Four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka announced Wednesday that she will not take part in any press conferences during the upcoming French Open. The No. 2-ranked women’s tennis player announced her decision across social media platforms, saying she wanted to focus on her mental health.

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“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,” the 23-year-old wrote. “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 not just going to subject myself to people that doubt me.”

She described athletes breaking down in front of media after a loss, believing the practice of requiring athletes to talk about their losses after a game is like “kicking a person while they’re down.” She also said her decision was “nothing personal to the tournament,” or to the press, with whom she generally has a friendly relationship. 

Osaka ended her statement by acknowledging the fine she’d have to pay for her actions, and hoping that the money would go to a mental health charity. 

She also included video clips of two athletes speaking to media as examples. In the first, a 14-year-old Venus Williams is pushed by a journalist about her confidence, until her father steps in. 

“You’re dealing with a little black kid and her confidence let her be, leave her alone!”

When Richard Williams schooled a journalist on how to interview his daughter Venus 👏

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In the second clip, former Seattle Seahawks player Marshawn Lynch answers all questions directed at him during a Super Bowl Media day in 2015 with “I’m here so I won’t get fined.” 

Osaka’s announcement received positive support from some journalists, celebrities, brands and Williams herself, who commented on Instagram with “Girl, do you. Your life is yours to live!” People also criticized her, however, for trying to avoid what is considered a part of her job, but for also being in a position to afford the hefty fines leveled against players. According to sports industry publication Sportico, Osaka earned a total of $55.2 million in the last 12 months, the highest earnings by a female athlete in one year in history.

Osaka also has a history of using her platform to speak up on certain issues. At last year’s U.S. Open, she wore masks emblazoned with the names of seven African-Americans who were been killed by police, including Breonna Taylor. She also withdrew from a semi-final match last August to protest “continued genocide of Black people.”

The Roland-Garros is scheduled to begin on Sunday, May 30 in Paris, where Osaka will be chasing her first French Open title.

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