Japanese professional tennis player Naomi Osaka is raising mental health awareness for professional athletes and prompting debate about whether athletes should be required to participate in media related events.
In the past two months Osaka has withdrawn from the French Open and Wimbledon because of their rules regarding media events for participating athletes. This has prompted debate about mental health within the field of athletics.
Are interviews and media events part of the job?
Those in favor of athletes being required to participate in media events view interviews as a means of hyping up the events and entertaining fans.
University of Toledo alumni Charles Perry grew up playing sports and is now focusing on his career in Public Policy. Although he acknowledges the importance of mental health in athletes and that not every athlete is an avid public speaker, he feels that media involvement is important to the sports industry financially.
“Mainly, talking to the media is a form for the tournaments to generate more money through advertisements. I believe that athletes sign a contract when entering the tournament agreeing to talk to the media for a predetermined set of time,” Perry said.
Cincinnati resident Chris Kitchell holds a similar perspective to Perry in that media events are crucial to the sports industry.
“Most players have it in their contract to do interviews with the media because the media is what draws attention to the sport and the more attention a sport gets the more advertising and money the sport makes,” Kitchell said.
Those that oppose mandatory media events view interviews as an entertaining, but optional, aspect of sports.
Former tennis player and Wittenberg University alumni Victoria Mohr feels that athletes should be free to choose whether or not to participate in media events.
“Athletes don’t owe you anything. Although I believe it would be nice to see them in the press, if they decide not to face the press for whatever reason, that is their choice and should be respected,” Mohr said.
Incoming Wright State University (WSU) student Matthew Atkins wrestled for Centerville High School and is familiar with the physical and mental demands of being an athlete.
“Everyone focuses on the body when it comes to athletes but they forget about mental health and wellness. No one would make someone with a broken leg run in a race so why should we put an athlete with anxiety into a very stressful situation just for some pictures?,” Atkins said.
Are there reasonable accommodations for athletes with anxiety?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, jobs are required to accommodate disabled employees and enable them to perform the requirements of their job.
Anxiety can be considered a disability when diagnosed by a medical professional. This has prompted discussion into whether there are means of accommodation that could enable athletes like Osaka to complete their interviews in an environment that does not affect their anxiety.
“Questions could be recorded, filtered, and given to the athlete at a different time where they could feel more comfortable answering it and possibly give better answers that are more detailed instead of rushed answers or a general blanket statement,” Atkins said.
“If a person is anxious to be in front of the new media then I believe there should be a better way for the media to ask their questions without her getting anxious. I mean we have a ton of technology that can be used to interview people that I believe can help her out,” Kitchell said.
Osaka is currently taking personal time to address her anxiety. Her actions have sparked international discussion on mental health, media and athletes. The International Olympic Committee issued a statement on June 18 that they will not require Osaka to participate in media events. It is unknown if other tournaments will follow suit or maintain their current policies.