As Naomi Osaka prepares
for the second major tournament of the year, she has done something stunning, but long overdue in my book, and that is she has said, “The buck stops here.”
to various news outlets, Ms. Osaka has declared press conferences needless, and she
plans to sit out everyone.
noted that it was pointless to ignore her own mental fortitude just to support,
WTA (Women Tennis Association) processes of "do this or else," and it appears that she wants to give herself some breathing room to do well at the French Open, a major where she has only reached the third round. "I am just not going to subject myself to people who doubt me," and rightfully so, as Ms. Osaka and many other players have proved, is that tennis is about momentum and drive, and for it to be maintained at peak levels, all untoward distractions must cease.
As a tennis fan, I am finally glad that she is taking such a bold step to secure
herself and her prowess, because she is absolutely right; pressers are daunting
and downright mean at times, as athletes are forced to face probing
questions about their physical and mental abilities, time and time again, sometimes with no overarching goal other than it is a WTA requirement.
I always saw press conferences as the price they (the tennis association) made players pay for the fame and riches they were giving them.
Players can be fined up to twenty thousand dollars for not participating in press conferences and Naomi cheekily said, that she hopes the fines that she receives go to a mental health charity, as she is fined as she seeks to protect hers.
Over the last ten or so years, I’ve
watched player interviews become more intrusive, as they moved from in the studio, to
in the studio AND on-court...AND in the tunnel just before they go onto the court.
I always wanted to know why they forced them to talk, when they know players are deeply engaged in whatever mental preparation they engaged in prior to a game, as these interviews just seemed like attempts to break players' concentration at important times.
The pressures that players endure seem to also coincide with their earnings, as the WTA players have fought for equal prize money with Venus Williams and other star players as champions (e.g., Billie Jean King) of the past years.
Not to mention, players' coaches are mic’ed
for on-court coaching, and I have always wondered when did playing professional
tennis become synonymous with losing your privacy, and your right to privacy?
know that these tactics and posturing by the WTA and ATP alike are constraining for
the players because, any job would feel constraining with all these bells and whistles that interfere with your job, rather than empower you to do it.
As Ms. Osaka noted in the article, she has seen players fall apart in the press room after suffering a major loss, and she only sees it as "kicking a person when they are down," and nothing more.
Indeed, I tend to cringe when reviewing pressers, as they often seemed intrusive to the players. Sometimes they are asked to explain what they were thinking when they made a particular move, and it seems as though they have to shore up their losses with good excuses, or else, they are left to suffer, the mental stress of losing, AND not knowing how to express it.
To be frank, I have viewed the explosion of on-court interviews as another way to make winning difficult for players, as they add more and more pressure to the requirements of playing the game.
I have always countered their on-air explanations for these types of interviews as a result of the fans wanting them, but as I fan, I have shuddered at that attempt to distract from what they were doing by putting it on an untenable mass, "the fans."
As I fan, I love hearing from the players indeed, but nothing has even said, an on-court interview is more informative than an in-studio, one because it is not!
All it does is pressure the players right before they do what we all want to watch them do, which is play tennis, and it deters from it, in my view. Sometimes the on-court questioning can become too personal, as interviewers try to find ways to instantly connect with players and fans in the arena, and it is a place where I cringe often, as these interviews are unskilled and even reckless in their questioning.
In my book, Ode to America, I touched on mainstream America's tendency to increase pressures and requirements, once African-Americans start becoming successful, and I have long felt that the on-court interviews came about in the Venus and Serena Williams era, when these women began to prove that they were unshakable and immovable, in their game and in their mental, and physical fortitude.
While there is no way to ascertain if this is true or it, it does leave room for the WTA and ATP alike to review their morals, their intentions, and their underpinnings, as a mostly white organization. Why add court interviews when players are interviewed already?
As Naomi said, they are asked the same questions repeatedly with all of this frequent interviewing, and it is no wonder she has decided to shy away from them.
Many players have chosen to ignore a press conference or two at times, even Venus and Serena, and I have cheered loudly each time I caught wind of such rebellious actions, for the reasons set forth above.
As a fan of tennis, it is hard to remain a fan when you see players are being used and abused by the tennis associations, simply because of their love of the game and their commitment to it.
To see players' privacy repeatedly violated by pressing and sometimes asinine questions, one has to ask oneself, is this entertaining?
It certainly is not to me, which I why I tend to watch tennis on mute or a low volume, at times.
I hope that as Naomi pushes back, she is met with the searing applause of her peers and even the association itself, which must consider taking an embarrassing step backward, as it simultaneously professes to participate in the larger conversations on race, workplace relations, mental health and more in America.
The French Open's main draw starts on Sunday.