Earlier this summer, Naomi Osaka, the then number one woman in the world in professional tennis, refused to attend press conferences and then dropped out of the French Open and subsequently decided not to play at Wimbledon, citing her mental health. Officials at the French Open noted that the terms for playing included the requirement to attend press conferences and threatened to fine her for non-appearances at press conferences.

Being a successful professional athlete requires years of grueling preparation and takes a toll on the body, not just in contact sports such as football and basketball, but even in sports that don’t seem as physically damaging, such as golf and tennis. That’s why sports careers are usually short, and why players want to make as much money as they can while they can. This can create personal stress.

I understand that. It’s part of the structure. What I have trouble with is when players get upset with the media, whether it’s in football, basketball, golf, or tennis. Like it or not, without the media there wouldn’t be the money behind professional sports, and that’s because professional sports are entertainment. High-stakes, high-personal-impact, high-stress entertainment, but still entertainment.

Professional musicians get paid for how they entertain. The same is true of writers. Both can face a great deal of adverse public criticism.

Now, no entertainer, athletic or otherwise, should be subjected to abuse from the media or the general public, but neither should athletes or entertainers be exempt from reporting by or meeting with the media, especially when they’ve signed contracts that require media contacts, and particularly when they’re making what top athletes and entertainers earn. A certain amount of press second-guessing and pressure comes with the territory, and not all of it will be favorable. If an athlete or entertainer doesn’t like it, then maybe they should reconsider their choice of profession.

Almost every true professional in any field faces criticism, either from superiors or subordinates, from clients and/or customers, or from media or government regulators. And for most of us, opting out isn’t an option. I don’t see why it should be for professional athletes, particularly given how much those like Naomi Osaka make, and when the terms are laid out in advance.

4 thoughts on “Fragility?”

  1. Grey says:

    In general, sure, don’t become a professional athlete if you don’t like the press. Particularly the spiteful and useless European sports press. It feels like your essay starts off with the understanding that what was once part of the deal can become too much to bear, but by the end you seem to reject that premise.

    As for Osaka, I’m pretty happy with what she did. She made an adult decision that her mental health was more important to her than possibly/certainly winning several million dollars in prize money. She did not play, and they did not pay her. Everyone got what they were entitled to, which was nothing.

    It also sounds like she’s trying to decide if indeed she wants to be a professional athlete. (I believe her problem was specifically doing press conferences, not the existence of the press and its foibles.) Perhaps tournament organizers should take a close look too, and decide what’s more important, having press conferences or having the best in the world play at your event. I am not a tennis fan, but this sure seems like a loss for those who are.

  2. David W Middleton says:

    Certainly the press can be brutal, and without a moderator to remove/constrain some media “trolls”, I think some people will choose to avoid the persistent and sometimes bullying questions posed that often have nothing to do with the event or person.
    I do agree, that if you are seeking to participate in any event with public exposure, then you need to participate with the media, and certainly set the rules. If someone feels their mental health is at risk, then they make their decision, and they own it.
    Often, athlete’s tend to focus on their sport, and get no training in how to deal with offensive / off-topic questions. Then it becomes incumbent for the athlete to manage their career and learn to handle the media.

  3. Joe says:

    Players’ performances speak for themselves. No need to hear them witter about it. Most of them aren’t very articulate anyway.

    1. Tom says:

      I would agree to a degree.

      The main reason for the pre and post match twittering is for the media to make the audience aware of the supporting sponsors. Whether directly or indirectly the competitor gets to compete at the professional level because of sponsors more than the ticket sales from the fans.

      The Tour de France teams would not be able to compete without the sponsors. Loose a sponsor and the team is unable to compete because the costs are too high: in most professional sports or entertainments.

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