Naomi Osaka announces that she will not do media at the French Open

TENNIS : Mutua Madrid Open - 02/05/2021

Well, this caused a big commotion on sports Twitter last night. Naomi Osaka is currently the world #2 in women’s tennis, and she won the 2020 US Open and 2021 Australian Open, backing up her championships at those two Slams in 2018 (USO) and 2019 (AO). Meaning, she’s a four-time Slam winner and hardcourt specialist. And she also happens to have earned an estimated $55.2 million in the past year, and only $5.2 million of that is from prize money. The rest is from her long list of sponsorships and endorsements. She’s the new hot young thing in tennis and international sponsors are lining up to get in the Naomi Osaka business. But Osaka is not in the business of sitting for endless press conferences, at least not at the French Open, which starts on Sunday. Osaka posted this on her social media last night:

osaka french open press

The way the tennis tour works is that top players have to do a certain amount of time in the media conference room before the tournament and after each match, win or lose. They get fined if they don’t do the media availability part of their job. The fines change depending on the tournament – if it’s a smaller tournament and maybe there’s not a huge interest in the player, they’ll maybe get fined $500-1000 for skipping press. At the French Open, players can get fined up to $20,000 for every time they skip the media after a match. If Osaka wins three matches and loses in the fourth round and skips press every time, she could be fined up to $80,000. Which is a drop in the bucket considering the sponsorship money she’s making, it’s true.

In recent years, there have been some tough moments or notable moments in Slam press rooms and of course feelings are raw and there are tears and emotions. The majority of players accept that as part of their jobs too. Many tennis journalists – that I’ve seen – appreciate that Osaka is at least trying to shake up the old model, and no one is begrudging her the fact that these media engagements affect her mental health. She’s willing to pay the fines and so be it.

Personally, as someone who follows tennis, I do think it’s notable that Osaka is doing this at the French Open, the clay-court Slam, where she has historically not done that well. Osaka has had yet another bad clay season leading into the French, and it feels unlikely that she’s going to win that many matches in Paris this year. My point? Osaka is making a calculation that she’s not even going to be in Paris that long and why bother with the endless questions about her (poor) clay-court game. My eye also caught on “I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me…” Like, that’s not the job of the Fourth Estate? A sports journalist’s job is not “being a sycophant, yes-man and cheerleader for players.”


Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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47 Responses to “Naomi Osaka announces that she will not do media at the French Open”

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  1. Jane says:

    I love her point about being asked questions she’s been asked multiple times before – whenever I see any celebrity interviewed, whether they’re an actor, musician, athlete, author, whatever, they always get asked the same lazy mundane questions and it’s so boring. If you have even a slight interest in them, you know the answers to these questions or can easily find them by reading their Wikipedia page, looking at their website or social media, or even googling. I’d much rather find out new information that’s unique to that interview.

  2. hindulovegod says:

    The tennis press includes a laughably high percentage of unprofessional hacks. The questions are sexist, racist, sometimes vile, and often unrelated to sport. Players have pressed for standards and been ignored. Osaka gained enough power not to be ignored and not to have to sit through the charade. I applaud her decision.

    • Mac says:

      I hope other big players follow her lead. Some of the tennis press are so unprofessional.

  3. Eurydice says:

    So interesting to watch the deconstruction of the press. So many interwoven relationships – celebrities’, athletes, politicians, corporations and industries – tacit and explicit agreements being broken – everyone jockeying for who gets to control expectations.

    • FilmTurtle says:

      Agreed. It’s fascinating to watch from a broader cultural perspective, and how mad some people/institutions become when the system gets shaken up.

  4. Hannah says:

    I don’t see how she “owes” anyone an interview or how it’s legal or ethical to fine people up to $20,000 a time (!!!!) for not doing interviews against their will or best interests of their mental health. Other than a few superstars, who could afford that? It’s such a high amount of money, it’s basically coercion of young women to do interviews or find it impossible to continue playing from a financial standpoint.

    As a Black and Asian woman, she’s almost certainly gotten racist attacks and micro-aggressions, not sycophancy. She should NOT have to put up with that. Not just from a mental health standpoint but in regard to her basic worth as a human being. I’m guessing this is about misogynoir from institutions dominated by old white men, not sycophancy.

    The organization and media are exploiting young women (most of whom have nowhere near the megabucks Naomi has accrued).

    • Bryn says:

      Totally agree. I dont follow tennis but required media interviews and fining players for not participating sounds really dumb.

    • Ellie says:

      Because it’s part of the job to promote the sport?

      And no, it’s not sexist or racist. The ATP/ITF fine white men for the same infraction.

      Tired of multi-millionaires whining about microscopic inconveniences….

      • goofpuff says:

        Promoting the sport does not equal allowing the press to kick you when you’re down, she doesn’t want to cry in public, why can’t you understand that?

      • FYI says:

        No one is kicking her or making her cry. They’re just asking questions, which is their job. Sports journalists can only ask questions of the winner of each match, is that it?

      • Hell Nah! says:

        Really, Ellie???

        Whether you’re a multi-millionaire or someone living paycheque to paycheque, protecting your mental health should never be thought of as a “microscopic inconvenience”. Yikes.

      • Dutch says:

        She also has an obligation to her sponsors who provide her most of her income. An interview setting is an additional opportunity for that swoosh or luxury watch to be seen on television (especially since it is more static than when the sport is being played). Sponsors keep close track of exposure value.

      • Ellie says:

        @Hell Nah: If after match interviews were so deleterious to her mental health she would also refuse to do them during her winning streaks.

        I doubt Maria Sharapova would have many defenders here if she’d opted out of compulsory media spots every time she got her ass kicked by Serena Williams.

      • GirlMonday says:

        You’re missing the whole point. Educate yourself.

      • Ally says:

        Have you watched a tennis press conference? None of that BS promotes the sport.

    • FYI says:

      The same rules are in place for men. It isn’t “coercion of young women.” Being asked to do an interview is not exploitation. These are really extreme words that distort what is a very normal practice in every sport. Every major player in every sport does press. It’s part of the interaction with the fans, and it generally adds to the enjoyment for everyone.

      I mean, really, couching this in terms of her “basic worth as a human being” — seriously!? No one is attacking her or persecuting her. They just aren’t.

      • FF says:

        Just because it’s “normal”, or always been done, doesn’t mean it’s conducive for everyone.

        I’m sure Naomi Osaka knows her game process and if this interrupts her best form, and she can afford the fines, then I wish her the best. I hope it starts a positive conversation about journalism around the game that yields positive results.

      • Abby16 says:

        She is my favorite player on the tour. Off the court I love how shows her stance on issues she believes in and supports. Her US Open masks were a quiet, powerful way to communicate her message. Her dry humor and devotion to her culture and family just add to her popularity as an elite athlete.

        That said, I feel like this a distraction and seems to have worked against her goal. I’ve watched tennis my whole life – my parents played. I cannot remember ever actually trying to watch a press conference. I wish she’d just go to the press room, be as boring as possible, and call out the press bullshit after the tournament.

  5. Amy Bee says:

    Naomi has a hard time at roland garros and she knows that people are going to ask her about the calendar slam and her poor performances on clay so she’s not going to do press. I can’t fault her for not wanting to put up with that in order to protect her mental health. However one of sponsors is Louis Vuitton which is also involved with the tournament. I wonder how they feel about her decision.

  6. lanne says:

    I say good for her. She doesn’t want to do something that she is obligated to do on penalty of fines, so she says no, I’ll take the fines. Whether or not the fines should be in place is another story, but it’s not her job to investigate that. So good on her for doing what she needs to do for herself. The French Open better accept her terms because she’s accepting theirs. And The French Open as a reminder is the tournament where Serena stopped from wearing her compression suit because the Rolland Garros folks thought it wasn’t pretty or “feminine” or whatever. So I wouldn’t be surprised if they decide to move the goalposts and ban her from the tournament.

    • HeyJude says:

      She’s not obligated due to whether or not she’ll be fined. She’s obligated because it’s part of the agreement she signed when she joined the tour. She signed a contract stipulating she’d do press. The fines are simply the penalty of the contact breach.

      If she had questions about whether or not the fines should be in place she shouldn’t have signed a contract agreeing to them in the first pace.

      No investigation needed. That’s it. No one is forcing press conferences on her, she voluntarily signed on to do them as part of the job.

      There needs to be an investigation that this woman signed a contract? That’s infantilizing as hell or totally not super dramatic or anything either.

  7. FYI says:

    I think this is ridiculous and very offensive to people with actual mental health issues. Someone asks you a question more than once — so what? Mental health is not “no one annoys me ever.” What if every athlete decided to do this? Sports would get a lot less interesting. Fans want to hear from players, and journalists have to report on these things.

    Even when she’s ON the court, she acts like she’s irritated to be there.

    • goofpuff says:

      Fans want to hear from players. but the players need to have ownership of their right to do interviews when they want to. Fans don’t own the players. Women get a lot of sexist crap in interviews and after a while it doe grate on your mental health.

      And she is allowed not to have to smile and be happy on court if she wants to. Do we get irritated at the men who act like that?

      I say good for her.

      • Lizounette says:

        Totally agreed. Maybe they could start doing open mikes for players to comment if they want to and that’s it- not enduring so much time answering to the press. Their job should be playing.

      • FYI says:

        They have a right to do interviews or not, yes, but it would not be good for the sport if every player had her attitude and refused to do press.

        No one is saying fans OWN the players, but journalism about the sport does feed enthusiasm for the sport. She is part of a community for the sport.

      • Dutch says:

        I don’t know how they do it a Roland Garros but most sporting events have a “cool down” period before a post-game news conference so athletes on the winning an losing sides have an opportunity to collect their thoughts and emotions before answering questions.

        Yes we have been irritated for decades by male athletes who don’t talk. You can go as far back as baseball player Eddie Murray or as recently as football player Marshawn Lynch for examples.

    • Keke says:

      It’s your job. You’re getting paid millions. Every job has parts we don’t like. Most people don’t get paid millions to do the crappy part of a job.

    • Ohreally says:

      1. How do you know if she doesn’t have ACTUAL mental health issues? Because her paycheck is large?

      2. Have you ever listened to the commentary while watching Serena? Guess who else talks slick like that, but in your face during pressers?

      Microagressions are the press’ food of the day, and because she’s Black she can’t give it back to them like anyone else could so let’s not pretend her paragraph was not saying more… because I guarantee you most POC understand what was written between the lines. European people are reckless with their mouth on a regular day. Now imagine giving them a press pass. She doesn’t get bananas tossed at her, but let’s not pretend France is not a challenge. Her sponsors know she’s gold so that’s not really a big deal. She’s doing what Serena probably would have loved to do. Serena crawled so Naomi could walk.

      • StormsMama says:

        Echoing Oh Really.

        Additionally Osaka’s post on Instagram also had a video clip of Venus Williams being asked questions as a young teen (14 I think) and her father swooping in to protect her from the reporter).
        Osaka should absolutely do what protects her and her image. If this is good for her —and she’s willing to pay the fines – so be it!
        I support her decision.

  8. Roserose says:

    Good for her. I love seeing a woman of colour putting her mental health first, proudly and loudly. I’m here for it.

  9. Roo says:

    I do think there is history here, isn’t there?.The French press have treated Serena terribly and I applaud Naomi for not putting up with it. She has the privilege – as a star athlete who is making lots of money – to take the fine and keep going, so why not? The larger discussion of the fairness of this obligation on athletes is a separate matter.

  10. ThatgirlThere says:

    I think she’s a phenomenal young woman. She and Simone Biles are ushering incredible examples of sports brilliant, fearless rock stars to the world and I am here for it.

  11. Lizounette says:

    So happy for her to set this boundary. I’ve often cringed and not enjoyed the post losing interviews they force on athletes. I hope all sports sack this irritating and exploitive practice.

  12. Willow says:

    So after an exhausting day at work, good or bad, you are required to sit in front of a crowd of strangers and answer random, repetitive, sometimes insulting questions, designed to a get a 2 second reaction out of you, that will later be used for years and years in every interview, clip, meme, gif, to make fun of, or praise you. And if you are a POC or a woman, or even worse, both, we all know, just how unforgiving the world is. So is it any wonder athletes have to be fined to get them to attend press conferences?

    And what does it matter how much money they make? People don’t become public property just because they are rich and famous and you bought money to watch them play tennis.

  13. Chisey says:

    Man, I love Naomi, but I’m nervous about this. I get that lots of press conference questions are just plain bad, and that she probably has to deal with racist/sexist crap. That’s awful, and I do think there should be some movement to address inappropriate or repetitive questions. If her choice was ‘I’m not doing press until you address this problem,’ I’d be on board. But I also feel like there are situations where a player might avoid press that would upset me. If Zverev says answering questions about his ex’s accusations of domestic violence hurt his mental health, or Djokovic sayz talking about that tournament he organized that became a covid superspreader event hurts his mental health, are we ok with them bailing on press?

    • MissMarirose says:

      That’s a very good point.
      I would hope that, if Naomi and others want to address the real problems with the tennis press, they should band together to remove those “journalists” who ask the racist, sexist questions so that players feel like they are getting fair questions during these interviews.
      I think that’s what is best for the sport, not just doing away with it or avoiding them altogether.

    • Larisa says:

      Perfect point, I was thinking the same thing, but didn’t quite get to articulating it yet as well as you did.

  14. Lawcatb says:

    Her job should be to play tennis. Full stop. And I have no doubt that as a Black/Asian woman the tone, demeanor, and questions she receives from many of these journalists is different than her White counterparts (particularly the men) experience. I have no problem with her setting the boundaries she needs to protect herself.

  15. lee says:

    The press assists in paying her salary. Those huge rights for tennis are paid for by tv networks which all have press divisions. Those companies that sponsor tournaments are not doing it for the love of the sport its the media exposure. Those endoresements she receives are due to the publicity she brings the brand. If this is an attempt to change in a more humane way the the way players interact with the press after a loss this might be ok. But this is not a fight she can win. Without exposure your sport dies, your endorsements dry up and you slowly fade away. The media is bigger than one athelete. Get ready for the major leagues to disqualify a player from the next game who refuse to do press.

    • Bex says:

      Here’s the thing though…if the press can selectively decide which players to interview, then why can’t players decide which press conferences to attend? There was a really rude instance a few years ago where a player won his first match as a pro and the press were uninterested because they were waiting to interview Federer.

      Also… her endorsements have nothing to do with a press conference that isn’t aired in totality on TV. You MIGHT find some clips/highlights on YouTube. But nothing really substantial.

      As well, she can do more to promote the brands she endorses on her Instagram or Twitter account, attending high profile events. The “media” isn’t the arbiter anymore, and that’s a good thing.

      • Lee says:

        If life was fair we would all be Beyonce. It ain’t. She chose to play professional tennis. Part of the contract that the people who support her sport and pay the prize money she wins is that athletes will be available post match. She can always take the fine and not appear post match but I guarentee you once she does the rules will change and the penalties will be more severe than a fine because there are hundreds of less talented people willing to take her place who will cooperate. I support what she is trying to do – athletes need more on site mental health care especially at the Olympics and college level but I also believe she needs a less radical approach.

  16. Ms. says:

    Good. For. Her. I am so proud of the amazing young women, especially WOC who have more prejudice working against them, for standing up against these dumb systems. Where’s the lie in what she said?

  17. Zantasia says:

    I will never understand interviewing someone about how they played a game or how they plan to play a game. Can we just watch the game? If it’s for instructional purposes, like for someone learning how to play a sport, it makes more sense. But otherwise, watch the game.

  18. Abby16 says:

    She is my favorite player on the tour. Off the court I love how shows her stance on issues she believes in and supports. Her US Open masks were a quiet, powerful way to communicate her message. Her dry humor and devotion to her culture and family just add to her popularity as an elite athlete.

    That said, I feel like this a distraction and seems to have worked against her goal. I’ve watched tennis my whole life – my parents played. I cannot remember ever actually trying to watch a press conference. I wish she’d just go to the press room, be as boring as possible, and call out the press bullshit after the tournament.

  19. Dierski says:

    Good for her for setting boundaries for herself, and letting everyone know ahead of time too. More people, athletes or not, need to do this for themselves in their professional and personal lives.

  20. iconoclast59 says:

    As a believer in a free press, this makes me uneasy. Yes, reporters can be obnoxious and overly intrusive, and I commend efforts to push back against that abuse. But barring press access outright… well, I’m not on board with that. As another poster noted, this comes across as entitled and diva-ish. What about doing the press interviews with the option of cutting them short if the press is being particularly nasty? At least that way it’d be on tape for everyone to see. Are there any fines for walking out?

    • Bex says:

      If she walked out, people would say she’s “entitled and diva-ish”, and demand that she’s fined for the “disrespect”. Just see the coverage around a professional athlete walking out of a post game interview. Read how that act is described by journalists.

      So, it tells me she can’t win, so she might as well do what doesn’t negatively impact her mental health and confidence.