By:
June 1, 2021

Naomi Osaka, the No. 2-ranked women’s tennis player in the world, has drawn a line in the sand — or, in this case, the clay. Osaka withdrew from the French Open on Monday in a dispute over press conferences.

Last week, Osaka announced she would not be doing press conferences, citing the damage they do to players’ mental health. She said she would rather pay fines ($15,000 every time she skipped) instead of doing the customary post-match press conferences.

Then, after the French Open and the other Grand Slam tournaments threatened to expel her if she continued to boycott press conferences, Osaka stunningly quit on Monday. But this isn’t Osaka stomping off in a huff, tennis racket in hand. Her statement Monday revealed something much more troubling.

In a statement, Osaka wrote, “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. I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. More importantly I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly. The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that.”

She also wrote in Monday’s statement that she is “introverted” and that she is not a “natural public speaker.” She went on to say she gets “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the media. She apologized to the “cool journalists I may have hurt,” but added the following:

“So here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences. I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that. I wrote privately to the tournament apologizing and saying that I would be more than happy to speak with them after the tournament as the Slams are intense.”

Osaka, who had won her first-round match in Paris, said she was going to “take some time away from the court” and then hopes to speak with the women’s tennis tour to “discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans.”

After all, this is important. Tennis and all sports need players to cooperate with the media. It’s part of promoting the sport.

After Osaka said she would not be doing press conferences, Rafael Nadal, the No. 1-ranked men’s player in the world, said, “As sports people, we need to be ready to accept the questions and try to produce an answer, no? I understand her, but on the other hand, for me, without the press, without the people who normally are traveling, who are writing the news and achievements that we are having around the world, probably we will not be the athletes that we are today. We aren’t going to have the recognition that we have around the world, and we will not be that popular, no?”

However, Osaka’s decision to withdraw from the French Open and take a break from tennis would suggest she isn’t, as I wrote last week, trying to avoid tough questions at a tournament where she traditionally has not played well. It’s much more serious than that. And, clearly, the French Open’s tact of fines and threats of expulsion was a decision that lacked both empathy and intelligence.

It’s a sad ending to a story that shouldn’t have ended this way. At this critical moment, tennis decided that its sport and its rigid rules were more important than the mental health and debilitating stresses of one of its most popular players. Some sort of compromise should have been made.

Tennis legend Billie Jean King, who previously spoke about the importance of the media, tweeted, “It’s incredibly brave that Naomi Osaka has revealed her truth about her struggle with depression. Right now, the important thing is that we give her the space and time she needs. We wish her well.”

So what happens now? The goal here is twofold. It’s impossible not to feel sympathy for Osaka. Yet, it’s important to find a way for Osaka — and all players — to continue talking to the media while, of course, feeling safe and healthy. Each side needs the other.

Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel summed it up well when he wrote, “It needs to be a partnership though, because no one wins if Osaka, a four-time major champion, is sitting out big events because a secondary part of her job (albeit part of her job) is causing her too much stress.”

One more note on the Osaka news

Over the past few days as those in and out of the media discussed the Osaka developments, a theme has emerged. Many are portraying press conferences as being filled with “mindless questions.” It’s a phrase that has come up quite often in this conversation.

Jon Krawczynski, who works for The Athletic in the Twin Cities, smartly tweeted, “I’m all for scrutiny of the press. It’s absolutely warranted. If Naomi Osaka is suffering from anxiety and depression that HAS to take priority. But this broad brush painting of press conferences as nothing but ‘mindless questions over and over again’ has to stop.”

He added, “There are bad and mindless questions, yes. But there are worthwhile and important interactions that illuminate the events and the athletes, informs analysis and add value for all involved.”

Goodbye to At Home

A little more than a year ago — 57 weeks to be exact — The New York Times started a section called “At Home.” The goal was to help readers get through the unprecedented times of being forced to stay home as the coronavirus pandemic raged throughout the world. Our homes became our work offices, our schools, our gyms, our movie theaters, our restaurants, our entire worlds.

But in another sign that life is getting back to normal, The Times announced the end of the At Home section.

In a note to readers, The Times’ Amy Virshup wrote, “So we’ve chosen this moment on the cusp of a summer that we hope will be filled with delightfully ordinary joys, to bow off the stage. The Times will continue to offer advice both online and in other print sections, but readers will not find At Home in their Sunday paper. And that’s a good thing. It’s another sign that the journey back to ‘normal’ is underway. As to what comes next …? We are going to take some time to determine that. But for now, we’ll say goodbye and, with printer’s caps on our heads and flibbers hoisted high, march off into the future.”

Speaking of The New York Times …

Michael Barbaro. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

If you’re a fan of The New York Times’ “The Daily” podcast, you’ve already noticed a change. Original and longtime host Michael Barbaro is not hosting the show every weekday. How come?

Barbaro wrote over the weekend, “My wife and I had a baby, so for the next few months, I won’t be working every day, giving you a chance to hear from a broader set of voices on the show — colleagues (and frequent guests) like the political correspondent Astead Herndon, the national correspondent Sabrina Tavernise and the technology columnist Kevin Roose.”

Barbaro said he isn’t going anywhere, and will still host often.

AP editor defends firing

During an interview on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” Associated Press managing editor Brian Carovillano said reporter Emily Wilder was fired after only two weeks on the job because her pro-Palestinian tweets violated the news outlet’s social media policy.

Carovillano told host Brian Stelter, “Emily Wilder was let go because she had a series of social media posts that showed a clear bias toward one side and against another in one of the most divisive and difficult stories that we cover anywhere in the world. It was a difficult decision; it was not an easy decision, and it was not a personal decision, and we wish her all the best.”

Carovillano said Wilder’s firing was a unanimous decision among “some senior managers.” He told Stelter, “It’s really important that we maintain our credibility on these stories. Journalists’ safety is at stake and the AP’s credibility is at stake. Our credibility is constantly under attack. Our social media guidelines exist to protect that credibility, because protecting our credibility is the same as protecting journalists.”

Many AP journalists wrote an open letter to protest the company’s decision to fire Wilder, while many others believed pushback from conservatives, including a Stanford Republican group, led to the AP firing Wilder.

Carovillano told Stelter, “That would never happen and that didn’t happen here. This is the Associated Press, so anyone who thinks the AP would be cowed by the college Republicans does not know very much about the AP.”

Brazile leaves Fox News for ABC

Donna Brazile. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona and Maxwell Tani broke the news that former Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazile and Fox News parted ways. The liberal Brazile joined the conservative Fox News in a controversial and much-discussed move two years ago. As her contract as a contributor was coming to an end, Brazile said Fox News offered her an additional two to four years, but she decided to return to ABC News instead.

Brazile’s departure comes only days after another liberal voice, Juan Williams, announced he was leaving as co-host of Fox News’ “The Five.” Williams, however, is not leaving Fox News entirely. He’s staying on the network as a senior political analyst.

In a detailed and well-done piece, New York Times’ media writer Michael M. Grynbaum wrote, “Onscreen and off, in ways subtle and overt, Fox News has adapted to the post-Trump era by moving in a single direction: Trumpward.”

In addition to the Brazile and Williams news, Fox News clearly is taking more giant steps to the right, as if that was even possible. Grynbaum wrote, “The network has rewarded pro-Trump pundits like Greg Gutfeld and Dan Bongino with prize time slots. Some opinion hosts who ventured on-air criticism of the former president have been replaced. And within the Fox News reporting ranks, journalists have privately expressed concern that the network is less committed to straight-ahead news coverage than it was in the past.”

VICE’s special coverage celebrates LGBTQ Pride month

(Courtesy: VICE)

Starting today, VICE Media Group will begin special coverage for LGBTQ pride month. Across all its platforms — VICE News, VICE TV, VICE.com, VICE Studios, Virtue, Refinery29 and i-D — VICE will feature special programming and coverage on equality and civil rights.

In a statement, VICE global chief marketing officer Nadja Bellan-White said, “VICE is committed to representation and equal rights for all. Our continued coverage of LGBTQ issues across all of our platforms remains paramount to us, especially at a time when certain factions of the country are stripping away rights from the community. VICE will continue to shine a light on injustices and raise awareness with content that focuses on the hopes and struggles of people across the U.S. and globally.”

The coverage includes VICE TV’s special documentary, “VICE VERSA: The Neglected Pandemic, 40 Years of HIV & AIDS.” The two-hour doc premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m.

Media tidbits

  • Vice President Kamala Harris recently spoke with MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski for an interview that will air on today’s “Morning Joe,” which runs from 6 to 9 a.m. Eastern.
  • Video of the day: CNN’s Brianna Keilar ate a bug — specifically, a cicada — on the air. On purpose.
  • Seattle Times Free Press editor Brier Dudley with a column: “Local news crisis deepens as layoffs surge.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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