in

Couch: Naomi Osaka Coming Across As If She Doesn’t Want To Address Real Issue

If Naomi Osaka is struggling with her mental health, then that’s what she should have said. That would’ve been helpful. That would have been powerful, especially coming from someone celebrated as a strong woman and the world’s most prominent female athlete. That’s how I’d always seen her.

But that’s not what she said this week in announcing that she’s going to boycott the press during the French Open, one of tennis’ major championships. What she said was that the media are bullies, the media make athletes answer the same questions over and over, the media “have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one.”

Osaka didn’t say that she’s having a mental health issue. What she said was that the media are perpetuating mental health issues in athletes. She took it on as a cause.

This is bigger than a typical blame-the-media issue.

I wrote about this here yesterday, criticizing Osaka for hijacking the important issue of mental health when her case doesn’t fit that at all, at least not based on what she said. It took off on Twitter, with what I’d guess to be a 60-40 split in favor of what I’d written.

But the response against my argument was mostly angry people saying I shouldn’t attack someone who is standing up for mental health issues. That was among the legitimate responses, anyway. Others included people saying I don’t like her because she’s a strong black woman.

I AM the one standing up for mental health issues here. Osaka isn’t. I’m calling for her to represent a strong, black woman athlete, as she always had before. But this time, she isn’t.

What she did was trivialize the serious issue of mental health struggles that people really have now. She was equating her desire not to answer media questions with people who have serious diseases that make it hard to live their lives, people who have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning.

That’s not the same as “I don’t want to have to answer the same questions over and over again.”

This isn’t to attack Osaka. It’s to disagree with her. There is a difference.

Some people were saying that I sounded like FOX’s Skip Bayless criticizing Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott for saying publicly last summer that he was struggling with his mental health.

Here is how I started my column on that at the time: “What Dak Prescott did was strong, not weak. What he did was lead, not follow. Help, not hurt.”

Let’s have a real discussion about this, not a social media snark attack. I praised Prescott at the time because, “In his very public position of quarterback of America’s team, he shared personal experience when a lot of people are suffering in a similar way for the first time in their lives, too.”

Prescott was standing for something, as he said.

When someone in Osaka’s position says she doesn’t want to answer the same question over and over and calls that a mental health issue, that just makes things so much harder for those with real problems to seek help and believe they’ll be taken seriously.

Look, I am the tennis coach at Roosevelt University in Chicago, and I have dealt with athletes struggling, now in particular. Last summer, some of our players talked about spending their entire day in their bedrooms, having a hard time coming out. I tried to talk them into going for a short bike ride, do 15 minutes of yoga out in the sun, practicing their second serve for 10 minutes. Anything. I talked to a sports psychologist and got advice on this.

This is serious. And it would have helped them to know that Osaka might be having some of the same struggles. Instead, Osaka, in lumping her boycott under the category of mental health struggles, is now telling them, roughly, that what they were going through was the same as what she goes through in having to answer the same question over and over.

And where are the media in this? They could be helpful, too. I suspect they are too afraid to be critical of Osaka over anything, as it leads to threats and fear of being canceled. That doesn’t help.

Look, I’m not a fan of the media either. But check out ASAPsports.com, where lots of interviews with athletes have been fully transcribed. Read through interviews with Osaka. There aren’t tough questions. The media gush over her and love her.

So now, the WTA Tour, the women’s tennis tour, is saying they’d like to talk with her about this issue. You mean, she hasn’t told the tour that she’s struggling with her mental health during interviews? Why not? Has she spoken with the International Tennis Writers Association?

At this point, Osaka is just coming across as a spoiled athlete who doesn’t think she should be criticized.

A lot of people are counting on her to be more.

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

5 Comments

Leave a Reply
  1. Couch must have a crush on Osaka. Two articles in a week about a topic most of this crowd on this website could give two shits. Oh and quit calling Osaka brave for sitting out a match. That was nothing more than a publicity stunt to sell something and is politically popular at the moment. If she were truly brave she would take counter positions that are unpopular. Lame.

  2. Who is counting on her and what are they counting on her for? She’s a tennis player. She should play tennis and reap the rewards of being very good at it. If she doesn’t want to answer dumb questions from reporters she doesn’t need to have an excuse that Greg Couch is ok with.

Leave a Reply

to comment on this post. Not a VIP? Signup Here