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.