Naomi Osaka is the No. 2-ranked women’s tennis player in the world, a four-time Grand Slam champion and one of the most popular players in the sport.
This week she announced she will not be doing any news conferences at the upcoming French Open. The reason? They are often damaging to the mental health of players, she says.
In a statement posted on social media, Osaka wrote, “I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one. We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.”
She wrote that she has seen athletes break down after press conferences and that she doesn’t understand “kicking a person while they’re down.” She also took on those who run the sports leagues, writing, “… if the organizations think that they can just keep saying ‘do press or you’re going to be fined’ and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation then I just gotta laugh.”
In several lengthy threads on Twitter, ESPN’s Howard Bryant has some of the smartest thoughts I’ve seen on Osaka, starting with, “My overall feeling is that since athletes have been positioning themselves as ‘entertainers’ no different from musicians or movie stars, refusing press was inevitable. They perform. Once it’s over, they’ve fulfilled their public obligation.”
Times have changed. For generations, media coverage promoted the sport — building interest in the athletes and the games they played. Athletes wanted media attention. And the press was the conduit between athletes and the fans.
But athletes no longer feel as if they need the media.
Osaka is getting some support from those in the sporting world, but it’s not unanimous. Former Australian tennis star Sam Groth, in a column for Australia’s Herald Sun, wrote that Osaka’s decision was a “slap in the face to a sport that has given her everything.” He wrote, “Her announcement, to me, is misguided and fraught with hypocrisy. You don’t want to speak with a group of journalists who follow the tour around the world, yet you’re happy to post images to millions of faceless followers on social media platforms? … Players of her standing have a responsibility to promote their sport and do what they can to protect its future.”
But do modern athletes still see it that way?
Bryant wrote, “Osaka’s statement was unsurprising, because she is part of a generation raised on two principles in this area: 1) they owe the public nothing outside of performance, and 2) the idea of a public responsibility/accountability is being destroyed in a time of privatization.”
He added, “They’re taught there’s no value to public wealth, public good, public journalism. The assault on each over the past 50 years has defined this country. This gen ever more tightly controls their appearances, their statements. They will replace public information with propaganda.”
Bryant was speaking mostly about athletes in general, but he also made some excellent points about Osaka and tennis specifically. Unlike most sports, journalists cannot enter locker rooms in tennis. For the most part, press conferences are the only place the media can speak with tennis players. In this case, Bryant writes, “Osaka has cut herself off to public access, to questioning not of her liking.”
And, really, that’s what this feels like — that Osaka just doesn’t want to do press conferences because she might not like the questions.
While I am not suggesting that athletes don’t have mental stress participating at the highest levels of their profession, I am skeptical that someone who can stare down and beat Serena Williams in a packed stadium in a major tournament could not handle a few questions from the press, even if those questions are sometimes pointless, cliched, irrelevant or even insulting.
As Awful Announcing’s Andrew Bucholtz wrote, “No one’s telling her she has to actually answer questions, and no one’s even telling her she has to attend press conferences; she’s welcome to just pay the fines for skipping them. But her complaints about this as proof that sports organizations ‘continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation’ feel a bit much.”
As Bryant noted, “Those press sessions are hardly rigorous, and accommodations can always be made for difficult circumstances. But what I heard today was part of a larger trend of control based on their wealth. It’s the future.”
Osaka isn’t the first athlete to refuse to talk to the press. And she won’t be the last. But will it become a major trend?
Maybe this will be an exception. And it should be noted that Osaka never plays particularly well at the French Open and that this could be a preemptive tactic to avoid being questioned about another early exit there. In addition, those who cover sports will tell you that the tennis media is different from other sports media. Bryant described it as “an international motley of various levels of professionalism.”
But my guess is other athletes, particularly top stars in all sports, stood up and took notice of Osaka’s statement and will keep a close eye on how it all shakes out.
As Bryant said, “Speaking to the news media has been part of the job. It is part of how we view professionalism. This new generation, as they grow in independence and power, coupled with a country extremely hostile to public journalism (public anything), may be the ones to end that custom.”
Earlier this week, the radio show hosted by conservative Dan Bongino debuted on Cumulus Media’s Westwood One in the noon to 3 p.m. Eastern slot. Seeing as how that was the same time as the late Rush Limbaugh’s show and considering Bongino’s conservative perspective, Bongino was seen as the show for those who listened to Limbaugh.
However, Limbaugh’s show was distributed by Premiere Networks and now Premiere, a subsidiary of iHeart, has officially replaced Limbaugh. The Wall Street Journal’s Anne Steele reports that Clay Travis and Buck Sexton will take over the noon to 3 p.m. show. It will be called “The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show” and will begin on June 21.
Travis’ background is mostly in sports. He has a sports talk show on Fox Sports Radio and is the founder of his own website, Outkick. Clearly Travis doesn’t, as many conservatives like to preach, “stick to sports.” His views are most definitely right of center and should go over well with those who listened to Limbaugh.
Sexton is a radio veteran, having hosted a show on Premiere.
Premiere is hoping the age of their two new co-hosts (Travis is 42 and Sexton is 39) will pump new life and attract a younger audience compared to Limbaugh’s show. Then again, Limbaugh’s show was doing fine and among the most popular radio shows in the country.
Premiere Networks president Julie Talbott told the WSJ, “We’re not going to replace Rush Limbaugh, we’re going to have an evolution of the show with fresh voices — those that grew up on Rush and admired him.”
Psaki might stick around
On Thursday, I wrote about White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre becoming just the second Black woman and first in 30 years to conduct an official White House press briefing. In that item, I mentioned how White House press secretary Jen Psaki recently said she planned on staying in her role for about a year.
But that might have changed.
Alex Thompson and Theodoric Meyer from Politico’s West Wing Playbook wrote, “A source familiar with the internal machinations said that there aren’t any real discussions about Psaki’s successor yet. Psaki has also told colleagues that she is now happy to stay on longer and won’t just walk out the door at her one-year mark, meaning that would-be successors may have to wait much longer than they expected.”
UNC reconsidering tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones
Earlier this month, a controversy began brewing when the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media hired New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, but did not grant her tenure.
The school’s dean and many of the faculty pushed back against the decision, saying Hannah-Jones deserved tenure. But the university hesitated because she didn’t come from a “traditional academic-type background” and the trustee who vets tenured positions wanted more time.
But many couldn’t help but wonder if the decision was based on conservatives complaining about Hannah-Jones being the driving force behind The New York Times’ “1619 Project” about slavery.
It turned into a real PR mess for the school.
Now The 19th*’s Amanda Becker reports UNC’s board of trustees will reexamine its original decision.
What does that mean? Well, Becker wrote, “Though it is not clear what the board’s next steps will be — its next regular meeting is scheduled for mid-July — the clash at the school highlights how state university boards stacked with the political allies of the party in power are increasingly wading into battles over free speech, the right to protest and even basic facts that mirror those playing out in legislatures.”
Speaking of this story, Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle’s latest is “UNC’s tenure controversy over Nikole Hannah-Jones points to the right’s conundrum over cancel culture.”
Meanwhile, The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported Hannah-Jones is considering legal action against the university.
A new host for ‘Morning Edition’
A Martinez has been named the fourth co-host for one of NPR’s signature shows: “Morning Edition.” He joins co-hosts Steve Inskeep, Noel King and Rachel Martin.
Martinez comes from Southern California Public Radio. He has been host of the show “Take Two” at KPCC in Los Angeles since 2012. Before that, he hosted a sports-talk show at Los Angeles’ 710 KSPN.
Martinez told NPR’s David Folkenflik, “I’m just super-stoked that NPR called me, and that NPR picked me. I can’t wait to meet America.”
Folkenflik mentioned Martinez’s unconventional path to one of radio’s smartest and most respected shows. Martinez told him, “I went to four junior colleges. I went to a state school. I didn’t get great grades and I went into sports radio. It’s not considered a great place for intellectual pursuits.”
Kenya Young, executive producer of “Morning Edition,” told Folkenflik, “He’s got that West Coast sensibility. And when he’s off the show, he’ll be able to go out in the field and report stories there, and particularly of underserved communities in the area.”
More on AP’s firing of reporter over social media
People are still weighing in on The Associated Press firing a young reporter because it said she violated the news organization’s social media policy. The latest is Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan. The headline on her column: “Emily Wilder’s firing is a story of bad faith, not bad tweets. Newsrooms must do better.”
Sullivan writes, “It’s pretty obvious to me that her recent social media posts were not really at the heart of her dismissal. Wilder, who is Jewish, was fired because she had a history of outspoken college activism on a particularly touchy subject. And because a right-wing mob came for her at a particularly touchy moment.”
The AP claimed Wilder’s social postings could harm the AP’s objectivity in covering tensions between Israel and Palestine. Although many believe the AP rushed too quickly to fire Wilder.
Sullivan added, “It’s an all-too-familiar situation. Traditional newsrooms want their journalists to use social media to distribute their journalism, build their brands and even develop sources. But they don’t want the trouble that often comes with it.”
There’s much more to Sullivan’s column, so check it out.
CNN’s Jake Tapper comments on CNN’s Chris Cuomo
CNN’s Jake Tapper is the guest on the most recent podcast of Kara Swisher’s “Sway” for The New York Times. During their conversation, Swisher asked Tapper about his colleague, Chris Cuomo, who was involved in strategy calls to help his brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, deal with sexual misconduct allegations.
“Such a complicated issue,” Tapper told Swisher. “And obviously this is my company and my home and my workplace. And so, that said, I cannot imagine a world in which anybody in journalism thinks that that was appropriate. So I agree with that. And he said, Chris, in his apology that he delivered on air, said that he put us in a bad spot. And I would also agree with that. And then just as a last point I would say that I work very hard to be fair and to be ethical and to not cross lines. And I certainly understand the love that Chris has for his brother, and I have a brother and I get it. But that was not a fun day.”
USA Today and The Trace have collaborated on a yearlong investigation that claims the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives “routinely lets problem gun dealers off easy.”
The project is called “Off Target.”
According to USA Today, “Reporters spent more than a year analyzing nearly 2,000 inspections — from independent mom-and-pop gun dealers to big box retailers — in which the ATF uncovered violations from 2015 to 2017. In the most extreme cases, gun dealers had sold weapons to convicted felons and domestic abusers, lied to investigators and fudged records to mask unlawful conduct. The reports — obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the gun control group Brady — pull the curtain back on the long-opaque practices of the agency in charge of policing the nation’s firearms.”
Along with the stories, the project includes an interactive map detailing the violations at nearly 2,000 gun stores.
In Thursday’s newsletter, I had an item about Juan Williams leaving as co-host of Fox News’ “The Five.” I misidentified where the show is taped. It has always been based in New York City, but has been done remotely during COVID-19. With the show returning to the studio, Williams has decided he wants to be in Washington full-time.
Your two cents
This week, we’re asking for your thoughts on The Poynter Report. For those who have taken our short survey, thanks! If you haven’t yet, take just a moment to help us improve our newsletter. Fill out the questionnaire here.
- Did the Texas winter storm and power outages kill hundreds more than the state says? From BuzzFeed News, Peter Aldhous, Stephanie M. Lee and Zahra Hirji with “‘The Graveyard Doesn’t Lie.’”
- The Associated Press’ Kat Stafford, James LaPorta, Aaron Morrison and Helen Weiffering with “Deep-rooted racism, discrimination permeate US military.”
- I should’ve mentioned this story in Thursday’s newsletter. It has blown up since then. Check out the always-terrific Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham from ESPN with “Son, ghostwriter of late senator say Trump intervened to stop probe of Patriots’ Spygate scandal.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at email@example.com.
More resources for journalists
- Subscribe to Alma Matters — Poynter’s new newsletter for college journalism educators
- Professor’s Press Pass (Poynter) — Get access to a growing library of case studies
- Understanding Title IX (Webinar) — Start anytime
- Build a Stronger Team by Being a Better Coach (Seminar) — Apply by May 31
The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, sign up here.