By Hannah Ryan, CNN
Naomi Osaka discovered what it’s like to be at the sharp end of a sporting governing body’s regulations this summer.
The four-time grand slam singles champion declined to attend press conferences as she began her French Open campaign in June — citing the importance of protecting her mental health and addressing the toll that media interviews had previously taken on her.
The French Open organizers responded by fining the world No. 2 an amount of $15,000 and threatening to expel her from future grand slams, after they deemed her withdrawal from press conferences as a failure on her part to meet “contractual media obligations.”
Osaka made the decision to withdraw from Roland Garros altogether, then skipped Wimbledon, before returning to play at the Tokyo Olympics.
What’s happened to Osaka over the last few months has left many critical of her sport’s handling of the situation, and wishing those who govern her sport had adopted a more empathetic and sensitive approach given she was dealing with mental health issues.
In fact, just after Osaka said she would be opting out of speaking to the press at the tournament, the French Open official Twitter account posted a since-deleted tweet that included photos of four other players engaging in media duties — Coco Gauff, Kei Nishikori, Aryna Sablenka and Rafael Nadal — which carried the caption: “They understood the assignment.”
The tweet appeared to be directed at Osaka and her decision to withdraw from media obligations. It was considered by several former tennis players and pundits as insensitive, and former doubles champion Rennae Stubbs said that the post could make Osaka “feel guilty” and described it as “humiliating” for her.
And while the rule itself — in which players are required to engage in press conferences throughout the tournament — may not be a racist or misogynistic one, the context in which Osaka found herself punished and seemingly mocked by officials is part of a pattern in which Black women in elite sports are subject to harsh scrutiny.
The rigidity with which Roland Garros responded to Osaka’s decision is reminiscent of the scrutiny that tennis governing bodies have previously bestowed upon other prominent players, including Serena Williams.
Osaka is a young, Black and Japanese athlete whose decision at the French Open is considered outside of the box by many. Her refusal to play by the traditional rules has seen her face backlash across the board in a particular right-wing media landscape that doesn’t look too fondly on Black women that diverge from the expected path.
And tennis has a history in the way it has dealt with Black women who do things differently.
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