Naomi Osaka has been vocal in the past about her mental health struggles, and particularly how news conferences surrounding tennis tournaments have exacerbated those struggles. Earlier this year, she withdrew from the French Open because she didn’t want to participate in news conferences, citing her mental health.
On Aug. 16, 2021, before the Western & Southern Open, she briefly stepped away from a Zoom news conference after an interaction with a reporter.
During the news conference conducted over Zoom in Mason, Ohio, Osaka answered questions about the media, mental health, and the earthquake in Haiti. She got into an exchange with Paul Daugherty, a reporter from The Cincinnati Enquirer who said, “You’re not crazy about dealing with us, especially in this format. Yet you have a lot of outside interests that are served by having a media platform.” He asked how she balanced the two, and what she said to gymnast Simone Biles, who had also dropped out of an Olympics event citing her own mental health struggles.
After this exchange, and as another reporter began asking her about the situation in Haiti and how her training was going, Osaka wiped her eyes and was in tears, at which point the news conference was put on pause by the news moderator.
This is the full transcript of her exchange with Daugherty from ESPN:
Reporter: You are not crazy about dealing with us, especially in this format, yet you have a lot of outside interests that are served by having a media platform. I guess my question is, how do you balance the two and also do you have anything you’d like to share about what you did say about Simone Biles?
Osaka: When you say I’m “not crazy about dealing with you guys,” what does that refer to?
Reporter: Well, you’ve stated too that you especially don’t like the press conference format and yet that seems to be obviously the most widely used means of communicating to the media and through the media to the public.
Osaka: Hmm, that’s interesting. … I would say the occasion, like, when to do the press conferences is what I feel is the most difficult, but … [pause] hmmm … [long pause] … sorry, I’m thinking … [another long pause].
Moderator: I think we can move on to the next question, Naomi, do you want to move on to the next question?
Osaka: Um, no, I’m actually very interested in that point of view, so if you could repeat that, that would be awesome.
Reporter: The question was that you’re not especially fond of dealing with the media, especially in this format. You’ve suggested there are better ways to do it. … My question was, I guess, was, you also have outside interests beyond tennis that are served by having the platform that the media presents to you. How do you think you might be able to best balance the two?
Osaka: For me, I feel like, this is something that — I can’t really speak for everybody, I can only speak for myself — but ever since I was younger, I’ve had a lot of media interest on me, and I think it’s because of my background as well, as you know, how I play, because in the first place I am a tennis player, that’s why a lot of people are interested in me. So I would say, in that regards, I’m quite different to a lot of people and I can’t really help that there’s are some things that I tweet or some things that I say that kind of create a lot of news articles or things like that. And I know that it’s because I’ve won a couple of Grand Slams and I’ve gotten to do a lot of press conferences that these things happen. But I would also say, I’m not really sure how to balance the two, I am figuring out at the same time as you are, I would say.
A video of that moment in the news conference can be seen here.
After the news conference, Osaka’s agent, Stuart Duguid, told a freelance reporter from the New York Times that the reporter was a “bully.”
Naomi Osaka's agent Stuart Duguid:
"The bully at the Cincinnati Enquirer is the epitome of why player / media relations are so fraught right now. Everyone on that Zoom will agree that his tone was all wrong and his sole purpose was to intimidate. Really appalling behavior."(1/2)
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 16, 2021
"And this insinuation that Naomi owes her off court success to the media is a myth – don’t be so self-indulgent."
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 16, 2021
After stepping away for a few minutes, Osaka came back to the table, and took more questions including from Japanese media. The news moderator and Osaka could be heard off-mic, where the moderator told Osaka to do whatever made her “most comfortable.”
Daugherty published a column soon after as well, in which he said Osaka’s response was “Honest, thoughtful … and unlike any answer I’ve ever gotten in 34 years covering sports in Cincinnati.” He said that Osaka’s honesty can probably help many other athletes.
“In the Zoom format, there’s no room for discussion or nuance. I repeated the question twice,” he continued.
Osaka also announced that she would be donating any prize money she received at the Western & Southern Open for Haiti relief.