Naomi Osaka, mental health and media attention – The Volley Podcast #1
In an in-depth discussion, Simon Cambers details what happened at Roland-Garros, what it means for the future of media-player relations and how the governing bodies can help Osaka and anyone suffering from mental health issues in the future.
Welcome to the first episode of The Volley, a new podcast presented by Tennis Majors, covering all the major issues from around the tennis world. In episode one, host Jenny Drummond talks to Simon Cambers, Tennis Majors contributor and the co-president of the International Tennis Writers’ Association, about the fall-out following Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open, due to depression and anxiety.
Cambers says the most important thing is that Osaka – and anyone suffering from anxiety, depression, or mental health issues – gets the help she needs.
“Mental health in all walks of life is absolutely crucial and becoming even more so in the pandemic. We’ve seen it in tennis in the past, so it’s not a surprise that someone should be suffering, it’s just a shame that Naomi Osaka should be,” he says. “We just never know how people are really feeling because it’s something they may not feel comfortable talking about… Hopefully she’ll be able to get the help she needs.”
If she’d said she was struggling with depression, I think everyone would have understood it much more easily.Simon Cambers
Osaka singled out the press conferences as the biggest issue, something Cambers said may have been a mistake, with the benefit of hindsight.
“I think people would have understood it more quickly if she’d said she was not going to do any media at Roland-Garros, rather than just not the press conferences. If she’d said she was struggling with depression, I think everyone would have understood it much more easily.”
Cambers agrees that compared to other sports, especially football, tennis journalists get very good access to players. But he explains why the press conference serves a useful purpose.
For 95 percent of journalists, the press conference is the only chance they will ever get to ask a player a question.Simon Cambers
“For 95 percent of journalists, the press conference is the only chance they will ever get to ask a player a question. It’s only the top journalists or the ones who work for big organisations who have the luxury of 1-on-1s, time where you get to sit down and chat properly for 10, 15, 20 minutes with a player,” he says. “All the people in a press conference are there for different reasons; the newswires want newsy stuff, others want things beyond the nuts and bolts of tennis. The way press build a rapport with players often starts in a press conference. You ask a question, they remember it or you and you build a relationship with a player. The more the players get to know the journalists the less afraid they need to be about being misquoted or misunderstood.”
Cambers says the Tours are working hard on mental health, citing Coco Gauff, who said the WTA’s mental health workers had reached out to her a couple of times but says there is a lot of work to be done.
“People don’t talk about it enough. We know Mardy Fish struggled with mental illness, Cliff Richey, who played in the 60s and 70s, wrote a book called Acing Depression”
And Cambers says it’s hard to be sure when Osaka will be back on the court.
“She’s got a lot going on, with the Olympics, where she will be the face of the Games. The Olympics are enormous for her, so that’s got to be her focus if she’s ready. I think it would do her some good to take some time off. I would say we’re probably looking at hard courts.”