Be the Change You Want to See, Unless You Are Naomi Osaka

The main draw of the French Open starts Sunday, and Naomi Osaka shocked the tennis world by announcing she was not playing not doing any press at Roland-Garros.

In order to protect her mental health, Naomi — the number 2 player in the world — is going to skip the press room. She will pay the punishment/fines that the WTA applies for such a decision. And she has also issued a preemptive apology to the Roland-Garros organizers, stating her choice is not personal and not meant to harm that specific tournament. The four-time Grand Slam winner says that she made the choice in order to get the powers that be to make changes in how tennis players are treated via press obligations.

People who didn’t like Naomi already used her statement a reason to further their disdain. Why don’t people like her, you ask? I know from hearing my mom’s tennis friends — over 70, white — that they don’t like her because Naomi’s “rapper boyfriend” playfully flipped the bird after her 2020 U.S. Open win. When they say “rapper boyfriend,” you know what they mean. And it’s racist. These same folks didn’t like her BLM masks or that the Western & Southern Open delayed play to allow her to protest for social and racial justice in the summer.

The “agog and aghast” folks were happy to tell Naomi that press is a part of the job. You’re rich, bitch! How dare you not do your job! The person with this kind of thinking typically falls into one of the following categories:

  • People who say we shouldn’t have student loan forgiveness because they paid for 4 years of college babysitting in the summer
  • People who hate unions and the $15 minimum wage
  • Christopher “I’m just here to troll Serena” Clarey stans
  • People who say they were spanked as children and turned out just fine

I know I shouldn’t be shocked at the awful takes, but hope is the thing with feathers, and I am bothered. People in this country are selfish. They think someone getting something they are not means the luckier person stole it from them. They think we should all suffer hazing because their Kappa Alpha brothers made them watch Power Puff Girls with a beer bong up their butt. If I had a beer bong up my butt, you have to have a beer bong up your butt!

I am also bothered to hear how people shit all over the idea of mental health. Why does tennis allow for injury time-outs for the body, but not the brain — which is an organ in the body? Naomi has talked about having anxiety. Maybe she hates the post-match press conferences so much she can’t even think about tennis. I’m a professional — in a different profession –, but if you tell me I have to do a presentation in public, I will worry about nothing else until the second I show my last PowerPoint slide and take off my sweat soaked blouse. If I had the money to pay my way out of it, I wouldn’t think twice.

For every person praising Naomi and her attempt to create change or a different way of doing things, there were comments that doing press is a part of the job, without questioning why that is. Boundaries are for countries, not professional tennis players. The scariest comment I saw on Twitter was a dude saying that disengaging isn’t even drawing a boundary; it’s a cop-put. That sounds like edge-lord logic to me, so to quote the ethereal Meredith Marks from the Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, I’m disengaging.

Ironically, Naomi’s move actually helped the tennis press corps that was claiming to be injured, by giving them an atypical question to ask. “What do you think about Naomi’s decision to not talk to press?” And so it begins . . . .

Change doesn’t happen until you change something. Did none of y’all study inertia in high school physics? The pre-game interviews are always cringe, and the post-match pressers rarely elucidate anything. Instead of looking inward and asking how they can do better, most of the tennis writers I follow were dismissive and grumpy. One even blamed Naomi for wasting the money of Japanese reporters who were flying over. When I was listening to the Murray Musings podcast and Caitlin Thompson (Racquet) said writers like Giri Nathan — formerly of Deadspin when Deadspin was good — can’t even get credentials at the U.S. Open, it confirmed to me the press room is a bit broken.

I am a rabid consumer of tennis. I subscribed to something called fubo TV just to get the Tennis Channel, when YouTube TV* dropped it. I pay for Tennis Plus. I belong to the USTA. I play tennis**. I get the magazines, and I listen to the dulcet tones of The Body Serve like an obsessive. And Naomi’s decision didn’t bother me one bit. In a statement, the WTA said “Professional athletes have a responsibility to their sport and their fans to speak to the media surrounding their competition, allowing them the opportunity to share their perspective and tell their story.” While I enjoy learning about the players and their on-court decisions, I don’t feel it is owed to me. Naomi owes me nothing; she is not responsible to me.

But this will be THE story that the often-lazy, repetitive tennis journos will cover while Naomi remains in the tournament. Brad Gilbert will create some dipshit nickname for her. They will say she is following in Serena’s problematic footsteps, and I will do my best to tune it out while I watch the red clay on my laptop when I should be working and pull for Aryna Sabalenka to win the whole damn thing.

*Fubo TV also has the Red Sox/NESN, which YouTube TV also dropped. 

*Pickleball sucks. Get off my tennis court. 

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