Why are professional athletes forced to speak after matches?

It is common after sporting events to have the press interview various players after each match. I had assumed that participating was voluntary but that professional athletes would welcome the chance to increase their profile by doing so. But apparently, at least in professional tennis, they are forced to subject themselves to post-game interviews and this odd aspect has come into sharp focus in the case of tennis player Naomi Osaka.

Naomi Osaka has announced her withdrawal from Roland Garros one day after she was fined $15,000 by the French Open and warned that she could face expulsion from the tournament following her decision not to speak with the press during the tournament.

Osaka, who won her first match against Patricia Maria Tig and was scheduled to face Ana Bogdan in the second round, had released a statement last Wednesday stating her intention to skip her media obligations during Roland Garros because of the effects of her interactions with the press on her mental health.

In a statement on Monday signifying her withdrawal from the event, Osaka said she was leaving the tournament so that the focus could return to tennis after days of attention and widespread discussion.

This seems odd to me. Sure, sports fans would like to hear from the players but surely players who find it an excruciating experience should not have to subject themselves to it, at least while the tournament is still ongoing. For some people, being in the media spotlight can be intimidating. Just because they play before the public does not mean that they are comfortable talking under the glare of the media where every word can be scrutinized and a false step cause a row. There is rarely anything really interesting said at such conferences anyway, which mostly consist of boilerplate responses to boilerplate questions.

Immediately after a match, people tend to feel the need to mentally wind down and a press conference prevents that. I found that even after giving a lecture in my courses, I would feel drained and would need to go and sit in silence for a while in my office in order to get back to feeling normal. I made it a practice never to make an important decision immediately after a lecture because my judgment was not good. If I felt like that after a mere routine lecture, imagine how much more downtime a professional athletes may need after a major event. So I can empathize with people like Osaka who just want to be left alone for a while and not be badgered by reporters’ questions.

Osaka’s dramatic move to quit a major tournament may have the effect of forcing the professional bodies to ask themselves whether this practice is really necessary.


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    One could also ask why actors and authors go on (often global) tours to publicize their latest movie/book. Another way to generate revenue for the organizing bodies or publishers.

  2. says


    Yes that’s certainly the thinking of the league, and I agree the question of Mano about why this is done is not on its face difficult to answer.

    Still, the question of why they would immediately fine her rather than talk to her is a good one. Keith Olbermann noted that over the 45 years he’s been a sports journalist speaking to the press is the norm, but there are so many athletes across so many sports over so many years that it’s not hard to find dozens of examples of men who blew off press conferences or acted badly during them who were not punished.

    If anything, the training of women to be sensitive to the needs of others caused Osaka to act more politely than someone who simply failed to show up, and yet it’s the fact that she announced her intention to miss that seems to have inspired the league to deal with her more harshly than they have with men who skipped pressers.

    There are important (and intellectual interesting) questions to be discussed here, even if one of them isn’t, “What motivation to leagues have to ask players to speak in the first place.”

  3. says

    I loved Bob Dylan’s interviews during his San Francisco show in the 60s; he did not quite keep saying “fuck you” into the mic, but it was obvious. Osaka could just do that. “Leave me alone” being the sole response. I bet the contract has something about kissing journo ass in it, though.

  4. brucegee1962 says

    Mano has a good question. The whole point of requiring something like this is to make sure you get lots of good, positive press coverage. But fining your players and having them quit the tournament is quite the opposite — it now seems to be the only thing about the tournament that people are talking about. The fine has all the marks of something that wasn’t very well thought through.

  5. says

    Pro sports only exist because of fan viewership, so accessibility for the fans is part of the business. But Osaka’s objection was to the repetitiveness, inanity and superficiality of the questions, the lack of concern for her and others’ mental well being. It is especially annoying for women in sports because, like hollywood actresses, they are often subjected to sexist questions that men aren’t, such as those about their outfits and hair.

    My suggestion elsewhere was for mandatory interviews was once a week and upon elimination from these tournaments.

  6. publicola says

    I am sympathetic to her position, having dealt with depression myself, but she was aware of the rules when she became a pro. Yes, most questions are inane/stupid/repetitive, but reporters are just doing their jobs and are facing deadlines. If you give her a pass, you must give every athlete a pass, and I believe most of them would gladly opt out. Then you would have little to nothing to report, and the fans/consumers who help pay the enormous salaries of these players become upset and possibly stop buying jerseys ,etc. Maybe some compromise can be reached whereby an interview could be conducted by text while she sits in a quiet room somewhere. If her depression is that debilitating she should have her doctors say so, so that a workable solution can be found, but I still don’t think she should get a pass.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    The title question is badly phrased.

    Rather than “Why are professional athletes forced to speak after matches?”, it might be more appropriate to ask “How is it that a woman can get paid millions of dollars to play tennis???” -- it should seem ludicrous on its face that someone who is simply good at standing alone on one side of a tennis court hitting a ball back and forth should be rewarded so highly -- higher than any doctor, dentist, politician, engineer, whatever productive profession you can think of, could hope to have as a salary.

    Can’t remember which Hollywood actor it was said of their job, while being interviewed, something very like: “I don’t get paid to be in movies. That’s really fun. I’d do it for free. What I get paid for is THIS -- sitting here talking to people like you all day for months. That sucks.”

    Similarly, I was privileged to go to a talk by Steve Nash, a former competitor in one of the toughest races in the world, the Red Bull X-Alps. One of the big takeaways from that is that on top of having to run up Alps, navigate paragliders through complex weather and terrain for over a thousand km and hit designated turn points -- the actual RACE bit -- they are absolutely required to be making video diaries and talking to reporters at each turnpoint, keeping their cameras and trackers on day and night, because ultimately the whole thing is about selling Red Bull.

    One comment made me laugh out loud, Crip Dyke@2:

    the training of women to be sensitive to the needs of others caused Osaka to act more politely

    It's interesting, isn't it, how one's own prejudices and politics can colour your interpretation of an action? If you'd asked me why I thought Osaka might have acted more politely than the average American, my first thought would not have been her gender, but her nationality. Japanese people -- men AND women -- are just more polite. It really is very much one of their "things".

    If women are trained to be sensitive to the needs of others, how do you explain Serena Williams spitting her dummy out when getting thumped by the much younger Osaka in 2018?

  8. Holms says

    “How is it that a woman [or man, surely] can get paid millions of dollars to play tennis???”

    Fame = money.

  9. DrVanNostrand says

    @Crip Dyke
    I’m sure men in various sports have gotten away with it on many occasions without being fined, but they are also routinely punished for skipping them. Marshawn Lynch did the press conference in #3 because he had been fined so many times for skipping them. In the end, sports are entertainment products, so of course leagues and tournaments will want to maximize entertainment value. They have every right to do so. Where I disagree is with the idea that press conferences offer any entertainment value. As far as I’m concerned, they’re barely better than commercials. I’ve been thinking about how necessary enforcement is in tennis. I assume the vast majority of players would be happy to talk to the press after a win, but many would opt out after a loss if it were an option.

  10. lanir says

    I don’t think “she knew what she was getting into” is a very good justification for this. It doesn’t really explain why it’s okay for her employer to do what they’re doing. Because using the same logic, any number of awful practices would be just fine as long as the employer warns you of the danger first. I’m pretty sure no one here is seriously suggesting this. My guess as to what people mean by the comments about her knowing what she was getting into are they’re suggesting she’s not coming to any harm by doing the interviews. Or that her employer can just assume she won’t, but as mentioned above they’re attempting to exert control over that situation. I feel like if you want to have extra control you also get extra responsibility.

    Also, yes I am talking about this as an employer/employee relationship because that’s the type of relationship it is. One side is given money to perform services for the other side. It also seems pretty clear that the side with the money is attempting to exercise control over the other side the way employers tend to do. These interviews are built as a default task with penalties for not completing them rather than paying a bonus if the athlete does them. Either way would work but penalties attempt a more overt coercion and show a desire for control.

    And lastly on the merit of these interviews, I don’t think they’re worth anything really. I don’t watch sports now but when I did, the only interviews I recall being interesting were ones where the athletes looked happy to be there. I get nothing out of watching someone slog through an interview they don’t want to be in. And I find the idea that without these interviews there would be nothing to report on pretty ludicrous. Isn’t the action on the court the actual story? If it’s not, how on earth is some banal interview going to recover interest in the thing?

  11. lanir says

    Blah. Deleted a part by accident.

    My guess as to what people mean by the comments about her knowing what she was getting into are they’re suggesting she’s not coming to any harm by doing the interviews. Or that her employer can just assume she won’t, but as mentioned above they’re attempting to exert control over that situation. I feel like if you want to have extra control you also get extra responsibility.

    [I inserted this part into the previous comment so that it makes more sense. Hope that’s ok. -- Mano]

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