The Washington Post

Superstar Osaka deserves compassion for her mental illness

- FRED BOWEN kidspost@washpost.com Bowen writes the sports opinion column for Kidspost. He is the author of 25 sports books for kids.

Naomi Osaka has been the talk of the French Open tennis tournament for two weeks even though she played only one match.

Osaka is a 23-year-old superstar in the women’s game. She is rated second in the world and has won four major titles, two United States Opens and two Australian Opens. ( Wimbledon and the French Open are the two other major tennis championsh­ips.)

Osaka is also the highest-paid female athlete in the world. She made more than $55 million in prize money and endorsemen­ts in 2020.

Before this year’s French Open, Osaka announced she would not participat­e in any after-match news conference­s because she wants to safeguard her mental well-being. Osaka said the reporters’ questions sometimes put doubts in her mind.

Osaka skipped the news conference after her first match. Lots of folks criticized this decision on social media, saying Osaka should answer the reporters’ questions as other players do.

Players attend the news conference­s to get more people and fans interested in the tournament and tennis in general. Earlier players such as Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilov­a worked hard to make tennis, and especially women’s tennis, popular.

The officials running the French Open fined Osaka $15,000 and threatened to suspend her from the tournament. Instead, Osaka withdrew from the tournament.

Osaka explained that she had battled “long bouts of depression” since she won her first major tournament, the U.S. Open in 2018. Depression is a serious mental illness in which a person feels so sad they lose interest in doing normal, everyday things.

Although Osaka is an internatio­nal sports star and a multimilli­onaire, her experience can be a lesson for kids who play sports.

First, Osaka proves that all of a

Naomi Osaka has won major tennis tournament­s and is a multimilli­onaire. Yet she has suffered from depression since she won the U.S. Open in 2018, Osaka said. She recently dropped out of the French Open to avoid the stress of news conference­s. Other top athletes, such as Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, also have had depression. person’s problems are not solved by winning. Sometimes I think kids believe if they can win a game or make a select team they will be happier. But it doesn’t always work that way.

Sometimes after you win, for example, there may be more pressure and expectatio­ns to continue winning.

Second, mental illness can happen to anyone, from kids to the biggest sports stars. The great Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who won 28 medals including 23 gold medals, has said he has struggled with depression. It may be harder for athletes who are trained to be strong and tough to admit they have problems and need help.

Third, everyone is different. Lots of athletes seem comfortabl­e with interviews and questions from the media. Osaka, like many adults and kids, describes herself as “shy.” Talking in front of a crowd is a lot harder for her than for most people.

Finally, it seems to me that Osaka, just as anyone who struggles with mental health issues, deserves understand­ing instead of criticism. Let’s hope that’s where all this talk leads.

 ?? CHRISTOPHE ENA/ASSOCIATED PRESS ??
CHRISTOPHE ENA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

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