Tennis pro Naomi Osaka has once again defended her controversial decision to refuse her media obligations at the French Open, saying she hopes it helped people to see that ‘athletes are still humans’ – while starring on the cover of Women’s Health magazine.
The 23-year-old spoke to the publication about the mental health struggles that led her to pull out of the Grand Slam tournament in May – while detailing the steps she has taken to ‘protect’ her wellbeing in the wake of the controversy.
‘We live in a world where people are so quick to speak and to comment. Silence is almost uncomfortable,’ Osaka said during the interview – which took place ‘soon after’ her withdrawal from the competition in Paris. ‘
According to Women’s Health writer Liz Plosser, who spoke to Osaka for the piece that accompanies her cover shoot, the tennis star insisted on conducting her interview ‘entirely over email’, which was a ‘nonnegotiable, mental-health protective measure’ that she put in place after her withdrawal from the French Open.
Cover girl: Tennis pro Naomi Osaka stars on the front of Women’s Health’s September issue, in which she opens up about her mental health struggles and decision to quit the French Open
Osaka sparked furious debate when she announced that she was pulling out of the tournament, having been fined $15,000 by officials when she refused to ‘honor her contractual media obligations’.
At the time, the tennis star revealed that she had been suffering from ‘long bouts of depression’ since her US Open win in 2018, explaining that taking part in press conferences was exacerbating her stress and anxiety.
Her decision prompted praise from many – including fellow professional athletes like Serena Williams, Steph Curry, and Simone Biles – however it also saw the tennis star face a bitter backlash, with some branding her a ‘diva’.
The debate has raged on over the past few months and left a cloud hanging over Osaka’s head – with the athlete breaking down in tears during a press conference last week when she was questioned about reaping the ‘benefits’ of her fame while refusing to speak to media.
Those benefits include several very lucrative brand deals with major companies like Nike, Louis Vuitton and Beats by Dre – as well as her own skincare label, which she announced in May.
In May 2020, it was revealed that Osaka has become the highest-paid female athlete in the world, with Women’s Health reporting that she raked in $55 million in just 12 months.
During the interview, the tennis star name checked several of the brands that have helped her to amass such a fortune, including Beats and recovery tool Hyperice – with the writer noting that Osaka is ‘unapologetic about promoting the brands she aligns with and invests in’.
Spokesmodel: During the interview, the 23-year-old name checked several brands for which she serves as an ambassador, including Beats by Dre and recovery tool Hyperice
Proud: Speaking about her decision to pull out of the French Open to protect her mental health, Osaka said she hopes it has helped people to see that ‘athletes are still humans’
Telling the publication about the ways in which she safeguards her mental health ahead of the game, Osaka explained that she plays music – on her Beats headphones – when she arrives on the court because it ‘helps dull her social anxiety’.
‘Music calms me, it silences the noise that won’t help my game,’ she explained. ‘For me, music is inspiring and uplifting.’
Hyperice got a mention as part of Osaka’s post-match recovery process – while the tennis pro is seen modeling sneakers from Nike in the images from her shoot.
She also discussed her own venture: a new skincare company, Kinlò, which focuses on providing SPF products created specifically for people of color.
Osaka said that sun care has always been a part of her life, because she spends so much time outdoors on the court, however through the process of creating her own products, she realized that there is a severe lack of information and awareness regarding skin cancer among people of color.
‘I never imagined how eye-opening the statistics on skin cancer in Brown and Black skin would be,’ she said.
‘It wasn’t enough to make products that didn’t turn our dark skin white and didn’t have harsh chemicals, I also wanted to dispel the myth that just because you have dark skin and don’t burn means you don’t need to take care of and protect that skin.’
Although Osaka seems more than happy to promote her many ventures in interviews like the Women’s Health piece – which the writer admitted was done very much ‘on [Osaka’s] terms – her decision to pick and choose when and how she speaks to the press has not been received well by all.
The hot-button topic was once again spotlighted last week during a post-match press conference at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, where Osaka was asked a question about benefiting from the media while refusing to fulfill her press obligations.
Upset: The tennis star’s cover shoot for Women’s Health comes just one week after she broke down in tears during a press conference after being questioned about ‘benefiting’ from fame
Although the exact wording of the question – which was posed by Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty – has not been revealed, tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg described it has being ‘fairly aggressively toned’ on Twitter.
‘[Daugherty] asked [Osaka] a fairly aggressively toned question about how she benefits from a high-media profile but doesn’t like talking to media,’ he wrote shortly after the press conference was halted when Osaka broke down in tears.
Before leaving the press briefing, Osaka told reporters that she was proud of her decision to refuse to speak to the media, adding that she had received a slew of positive feedback from other athletes at the Olympics, which further helped her to see that she had made the right decision.
‘I think the biggest eye-opener was going to the Olympics and having other athletes come up to me and say they were really glad that I did what I did. After all that, I’m proud of what I did and I think it was something that needed to be done,’ she said.
However Osaka began to struggle moments later and she soon after she pulled her hat over her face and wiped tears away with her sleeve before quietly sobbing into the microphone.
Shortly afterwards, her press officer halted the question and answer session.