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Is Naomi Osaka Brave or a Publicity Hog?

Froma Harrop on

Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka is the world's best-paid female athlete. She made an estimated $60 million last year. The 23-year-old is on top of the tennis world, but is her refusal to honor the rules set by that world justified?

Osaka recently declined to attend a post-game news conference as required by the French Open. She said it would be bad for her mental health and paid a mandatory $15,000 fine.

Osaka is entirely within her rights to give a lot or no access to sports journalists. But then the French Open and the other three Grand Slam tournaments are within their rights to ban her for not meeting the terms of the contracts she signs.

And so, whether stars like Osaka have to do the bidding of the official organizations is not relevant to this conversation. The athletes can do as they please. Nor is it relevant that some observers consider these news conferences boring. Maybe they are. Maybe they're not.

But there are consequences. As Sofia Kenin, another top women's tennis player, put it, "This is what you signed up for."

Media critic Ben Smith argues that the "athletes are only talking to us because they're under contract." He notes that Osaka posted a video of running back Marshawn Lynch complaining, "I'm just here so I won't get fined."

 

That may be the case, but Lynch showed up. He stuck with an agreement he was part of.

As for talking to sports reporters, The New York Times' Lindsay Crouse missed the point when she wrote that "for a young player like Ms. Osaka, the traditional media is no longer necessary for the world to know who she is and what she thinks." The thing is, without these big tournaments, the world wouldn't know who she is -- and they demand a presser.

Osaka is hardly alone among athletes who talk of depression and anxiety. This is a high-pressured profession that some brittle personalities would do well to avoid.

At the same time, one might question Osaka's claims of fragility. Taking questions about why she doesn't do as well on clay courts may be unpleasant, but it's part of the job.

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