Tennis veterans Patrick McEnroe and Billie Jean King weighed in on Naomi Osaka‘s controversial decision to boycott the press at the French Open, saying it’s part of her job to speak to the press.
The dispute began Wednesday ahead of the French Open when Osaka, 23, posted on social media that she would not be speaking to the media after playing because she wanted to protect her mental health. On Monday, Osaka withdrew from the French Open, citing a “bout of depression” as the reason.
The 23-year-old was fined $15,000 on Sunday after she refused to take part in a mandatory news conference following her first-round victory, OutKick's Sam Amico reported. She was also threatened with disqualification if she failed to show up for press conferences again.
McEnroe, who won doubles at the French Open in 1989, made an appearance on Good Morning America, and he gave "a lot of credit" to Osaka, the highest-paid female athlete ever, for raising awareness on the topic of mental health. However he also said, "Once you become a professional athlete, you decide to play by certain rules of the game."
"Quite frankly, I was surprised initially to see her take this stance although she has been at the forefront of other very important issues — the Black Lives Matter issues last summer," McEnroe said. "She is using her platform to bring awareness to certain issues, very important ones — mental health is an incredibly important topic. I think there may have been a few missteps along the way from Naomi and her team, looking at how this was going to play out."
"The federation has reached out to her, she apparently didn't respond which is why they released this statement which I felt was a little bit heavy handed in sort of threatening her with disqualification," McEnroe said. "I didn't like that at all. I think the conversation needs to happen, there's been a lot of other athletes who have dealt with this so I give Naomi an awful lot of credit for bringing this attention."
He said she is a professional tennis player and an athlete, so she has to abide by certain rules, one of which is speaking to the press on a regular basis.
"She is the highest paid female athlete on the planet," McEnroe continued. "She has a huge platform and a great player, but I thought that was too much, going too far threatening her. The statement up until that was fine, they reached out to her about mental health awareness. They said, ‘Is there any way we can work this out, maybe come to some compromise in the short term?’ But in the long term, you can't have players just deciding to do whatever they want to do."
In a since-deleted tweet, the Roland Garros Twitter account tweeted photos with the caption: "They understood the assignment."
King tweeted on Sunday that she was "torn" over the issue as she tries to "learn from both sides of the situation."
"While it's important that everyone has the right to speak their truth, I have always believed that as professional athletes we have a responsibility to make ourselves available to the media," King said in her statement. "In our day, without the press, nobody would have known who we are or what we thought. There is no question they helped build and grow our sport to what it is today."
King acknowledged that things are different now with social media, but said she believes the media plays an important role in telling the stories of athletes.
King said that "at the end of the day, it is important that we respect each other and we are in this together."
OutKick's Clay Travis said in general, he believes athletes make themselves look bad when they refuse to speak to media.
"It’s an incredible privilege to have an entire room show up to record everything you say," Clay tweeted. "But it’s wild how quickly the media’s tune changes on speech when their own jobs are threatened."
Following Osaka’s decision to withdraw, French Open organizers released a statement saying that it’s "unfortunate" that she withdrew from Roland-Garros, but they "wish her the best and the quickest possible recovery."