Naomi Osaka is a phenomenal tennis player who is trying to manage a health condition. She asked for a reasonable accommodation and instead got threats.
It is profoundly disturbing that Naomi Osaka felt compelled to withdraw from the French Open, one of tennis’ four Grand Slam tournaments. It is also illegal to make her feel like she needed to withdraw.
Osaka, who moved to the United States at age 3 from Japan, struggles with depression and anxiety. In 2018, she issued a tearful apology during the trophy ceremony after winning (not losing) her first Grand Slam tournament, the U.S. Open, over the American crowd’s favorite, Serena Williams. Williams, who is probably the greatest female tennis player who ever lived, quickly let everyone know – including Osaka, especially Osaka – that the then-20-year-old had nothing for which to apologize.
Williams’ whispers and gestures to try to console Osaka, and her exhortation to the crowd to stop booing and give credit where it’s due, demonstrated that Williams’ prodigious athletic gifts are matched by a compassionate heart. I still remember to this day how moved I was by what Williams did. Watch it for yourself here.
Threats instead of accommodation
The governing authorities of tennis’ four Grand Slam tournaments should have learned from Osaka and Williams. Before her first match at the French Open, Osaka had informed tournament officials that news conferences adversely impacted her mental health, and that she would be willing to be fined for not participating in them during the tournament. She also said she hoped that any fines she paid would be donated to “a mental health charity.”
Shockingly, not only did the president of the French Tennis Federation not agree to Osaka’s reasonable request for an accommodation, he persuaded the heads of the other three Grand Slams – the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open – to publicly release the contents of a letter they wrote to Osaka in which they threatened to disqualify Osaka from all four tournaments.
“We have advised Naomi Osaka that should she continue to ignore her media obligations during the tournament, she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences,” the release said. “As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament … and the trigger of a major offence…