World No. 2 tennis star, Naomi Osaka, withdrew from the French Open on Monday, citing “long bouts of depression” as her reason for taking a step back from the game.
Osaka previously declined to speak with reporters before the tournament, garnering a $15,000 fine as a result and facing backlash online. Osaka put out a statement on her decision to withdraw:
I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris. I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer,” she continued. “More importantly, I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly. The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that. Anyone that knows me knows I’m introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety.
The topic of mental health has slowly been working its way into mainstream sports over the past several years. NBA players Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan both publicly discussed their struggles with anxiety and depression in 2018, allowing the topic to be more easily discussed in the sports world.
“I feel for Naomi. Not everyone is the same. I’m thick. Other people are thin,” 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams said. “Everyone is different, and everyone handles things differently. 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.”
Osaka’s decision to withdraw from the French Open caused many athletes to take to social media in support of her decision to prioritize her mental health.
Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks wrote “We are with you @naomiosaka #Courage.”
— Russell Wilson (@DangeRussWilson) May 31, 2021
“Love, respect, and positive energy your way @naomiosaka,” Kevin Love wrote on Twitter.
— Kevin Love (@kevinlove) May 31, 2021
“I am so sad about Naomi Osaka,” tennis legend Martina Navratilova said. “I truly hope she will be ok. As athletes we are taught to take care of our body, and perhaps the mental & emotional aspect gets short shrift. This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference. Good luck Naomi- we are all pulling for you!”
I am so sad about Naomi Osaka.I truly hope she will be ok. As athletes we are taught to take care of our body, and perhaps the mental & emotional aspect gets short shrift. This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference. Good luck Naomi- we are all pulling for you!
— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) May 31, 2021
Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton commented on Osaka’s post, supporting her decision to prioritize her health.
“We are only human beings. Mental health is not a joke, this is real and serious. This takes a lot of courage to do. Let’s all make sure Naomi knows she’s not alone. Today is a good day to check and ask your friends and loved ones how they are doing and let them know they are not alone. A simple text can go a long way.”
📲 IG Story | Lewis Hamilton comments on Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the #FrenchOpen .
“We are only human beings. Mental health is not a joke, this is real and serious. This takes a lot of courage to do. Let’s all make sure Naomi knows she is not alone.” pic.twitter.com/BkzZd2AGSl
— Sir Lewis Hamilton Updates (@SirLewisUpdates) June 1, 2021
Nike — Osaka’s apparel sponsor since 2019 — released a statement supporting her decision.
“Our thoughts are with Naomi,” the statement read according to USA Today. “We support her and recognize her courage in sharing her own mental health experience.”
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