What Naomi Osaka can teach us about athletes and mental health

A woman plays tennis.
Naomi Osaka of Japan serves in her first round match against Patricia Maria Tig of Romania during day one of the 2021 French Open on May 30 in Paris.
Julian Finney | Getty Images

Top-ranked tennis player Naomi Osaka’s decision to pull out of the French Open after being fined for saying she would not appear at mandatory press conferences is bringing renewed attention to the mental health struggles of athletes. 

The 23-year-old champion shared publicly that she has experienced depression and anxiety since 2018 when she won her first of four consecutive Grand Slam singles titles at the U.S. Open. She shared that she feels “waves of anxiety” before press conferences.

Osaka’s bold step prompted debates on social media and elsewhere about expectations placed on athletes, especially women and athletes of color. Her decision also raises questions about whether and when talking to the press should be seen as an essential part of an athlete’s job.

Host Angela Davis talks to a journalist, a sports psychologist and a former collegiate tennis coach about pressures faced by athletes and how to better support their mental health. 

Guests:

  • Myron Medcalf is a Sunday metro columnist for the Star Tribune and a senior college basketball reporter and radio host with ESPN.

  • Nicole LaVoi is director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota. She has researched women in sports and media coverage of women athletes. She also played college tennis and coached tennis. 

  • Ashley Zapata is a sports psychologist at Premier Sport Psychology in Edina, Minn. and works with both college and professional athletes.

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