On Monday, the coldest tennis player in the game, Noami Osaka, withdrew from the French Open. Citing concerns of her own mental health, Osaka made the best choice for her, sidestepping the opportunity to add another Grand Slam title to her attempt to be one of the GOATs.
Osaka is one of collecting one of the biggest bags in sports and easily one of the most famous and prior to withdrawing from the French Open entirely, was set to sit out of press conferences. The decision to withdraw came after a butting of heads between the star and tennis officials as the trauma at the moment became too much for the young star to handle.
“I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris,” Osaka said in an Instagram post.
Her initial decision to not speak with reporters amplified the issue, however, it is not at the fault of the star. Instead, the viewing public and media feel entitled to having access to every moment of an athlete’s life. That includes before and after games, along with believing there is a responsibility of the athlete to constantly be on IG and chatting with the timeline.
“I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer,” she added. “The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that.”
Osaka, a future subject of ESPN’s Black History Always, a series that chronicles the heroes of Black sports culture, is receiving support from both brands and endorsers, but also other public figures.
“Hey Naomi. You are Right. They are Wrong! I am with You,” Will Smith shared in an Instagram post.
“Our thoughts are with Naomi. We support her and recognise her courage in sharing her own mental health experience,” Nike said in a statement. The similar statements were echoed by Levi’s, GoDaddy, Beats Electronics and more.
Osaka is not the only athlete to reveal a battle with their own mental health while performing in front of the world. Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love has become a go-to advocate for mental health, especially in sports.
Love was a guest on HBO and Bron Bron’s The Shop in 2019, and he said he “got to the lowest point of my life” during the 2017-18 season. It was around that time that ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan asked him about some rumblings that he was having issues, which he said he initially fluffed off and tried to keep to himself. However, he later decided that he didn’t want anyone else telling his story for him.
Love’s statements would open the door for then Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan to also express his battles with depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
“It’s one of them things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day,” DeRozan said. “We all got feelings . . . all of that. Sometimes . . . it gets the best of you, where times everything in the whole world’s on top of you.”
In a report in the Toronto Star, DeRozan would reveal how depression got the best of him and spilled over to social media.
Mental health trauma has also impacted those in the Hip-Hop community. 20-year-old Dallas rapper, Lil Loaded, real name, Dashawn Maurice Robertson, hit the music scene in 2019 and passed away just this past week. The rising talent penned a letter to the “most high” before his death and his mother revealed that he had recently suffered from a bad break-up. The reported loss of a bae was too much of a trauma to bear on top of the additional components of mental health struggle?
Lil Loaded is just one case of mental health struggles in Hip-Hop, that are often eased by self-medication.
What can we as the culture do to promote positive mental health? The road starts within. Maintaining one’s own mental health and continuing to educate themselves on ways to be a positive influence to others.
But how about our for our public figures? The immediate fix is to not press them to be open books at all times. But also support their initiatives to promote mental wellness like Big Sean’s new series that he launched with his mom during Mental Health Awareness Month.
“I feel that Mental Health Awareness Month is the perfect time to talk with my mom about some of the things I have learned from her that have helped me along the way, and I hope will help others,” Sean said of the series.
So just as much as we tune in to a game or listen to an album, we should be prepared for the support of everyone’s mental health.