On May 31st, after an Instagram post that revealed her struggles with depression and social anxiety, professional tennis player Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open. Osaka had “suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018” when she won her first Grand Slam and was boo-ed by the US crowd rooting for her competitor, Serena Williams.
Mental Health and Sports
As Sean Gregory notes in his Time article, professional athletes have recently been making efforts to destigmatize conversations surrounding mental health by sharing their personal struggles with the public and “defying shopworn sports conventions to show no signs of vulnerability, to just power through.”
Osaka’s decision to prioritize her personal well-being and mental health, rather than pursue a well-respected title, is seen by many as a turning point in mental health awareness, particularly within the sports industry.
Her stand has received praise by many, including Lisa Bonta Sumii, a therapist working to connect athletes with mental health providers. Sumii finds this moment “groundbreaking” and commends Osaka for setting such a great example by prioritizing her health.
Calm App pledges support for Osaka and other athletes
Osaka’s decision to withdraw from this year’s tournament was followed by an announcement by the mental health-focused app Calm, pledging its support for her after she was fined $15,000 USD for missing a press conference due to mental health issues.
The Calm team offered to “pay all fines for players who are punished for opting out of 2021 Grand Slam media appearances for mental health reasons” and donated $15,000 USD to Laureus, a French organization that supports young people’s mental health through sport.
Athletes commend Osaka for withdrawing for her mental health
Many athletes who have also experienced mental health challenges, such as Alexi Pappas and Michael Phelps, responded to Osaka’s decision with gratitude and hope. In Pappas’ view, Osaka’s stand can help people “move away from the win-at-all-costs ethos” upheld in sports. Phelps predicts that Osaka opening up about her mental health will help others do the same: “This will 100% save somebody’s life.”