Couch: Naomi Osaka Needs To Drop The Diva Act And Get A Clue

Naomi Osaka is just a diva now. She could have meant so much more. She was going to be the face of women’s sports, tennis’ transition from Serena Williams, and a social justice warrior.

Instead, well, she’s full of BS, just like so many others who made too much money, became too famous too fast, became too full of themselves and lost touch with reality.

On Wednesday, Osaka posted on Instagram that she was not going to talk with reporters during the upcoming French Open. I get it, the media are annoying, particularly the tennis media, who gush and idolize players. 

So what was her reasoning?

“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,’’ she wrote.

Wait. What?

“(I)f the organizations thinking that they can just keep saying, `do press or you’re gonna be fined’ and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation then I just gotta laugh.’’

Hold on a minute. Mental health? Is that really where Osaka is going with this? This is her new cause? The mental health of multimillionaire athletes who have to spend 10 minutes talking to reporters who console them and ask them to say a few nice words about their opponent?

What a crock. There are serious issues out there, and mental health is one of them. Don’t try to hijack a serious issue for people who are truly suffering and connect that with the trauma of post-match press conferences. Is Osaka really that out of touch?

Just 2½ years ago, Osaka beat Serena Wiliams to win the U.S. Open, and the tennis world immediately fell in love with her. Osaka was shy about it, talking about dreams coming true.

Now she is the best tennis player in the world, the world’s richest women’s athlete. She’s counting endorsements and out hawking products, like her new swimsuit line. She declined to play a match one day over her feelings about police shootings. And then every day during the U.S. Open, she wore a different mask with the name of someone who had died from a police shooting.

Like her or not, she was standing for something, representing something, meaning something.

“I’ve watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room and I know you have as well,’’ she wrote. “I believe that whole situation is kicking a person while they’re down and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.’’

Oh, boo hoo.

In December, basketball player Kyrie Irving boycotted the media until he was hit with $25,000 fines.

Charles Barkley, the NBA Hall of Famer and TNT analyst, then said this about Irving on an ESPN radio interview:

“I’m not sure what point Kyrie is trying to make. And when he talks, I’m like, `What the hell is he trying --- what is he saying or what is he trying to say?’... 

“Listen, we’re not frontline responders. We’re not teachers. Yo, man, you dribble a basketball. Stop acting like you’re the smartest person in the world.’’

Yes, he dribbles a basketball. In front of people. Osaka serves a tennis ball. In front of people. Those people want to know about them. This is how they make their money and how the sport survives, especially, in Osaka’s case, a niche sport without a ton of superstars.

Osaka was supposed to be about standing up for other people, the little guy, young girls who want to be athletes, or whoever.

Now? The mental health of millionaire athletes who have to spend 10 minutes every other day for two weeks dealing with softball questions so that reporters can tell people what great human beings they are. Osaka made a reported $50 million in endorsements last year.

“We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds,’’ Osaka wrote, “and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.’’

Osaka has lost just four matches in the past year. I found full transcripts on the ASAP Sports website for two of those matches. Here are all of the questions, unedited, posed to her following her loss to Karolina Muchova in Madrid three weeks ago:

Does that sound like a challenge to Osaka’s mental health? After her loss in Miami, a reporter told her that while her tennis is “amazing,’’ her off-court accomplishments are even more amazing.

People have serious problems in this world. Osaka could have stood for one of them.

Written by
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 and The Guardian. Couch penned articles and columns for Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for 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.