“You Have Media Obligations”: Stephen A Smith Reacts to Japanese Tennis Player Naomi Osaka’s Withdrawal Fallout

Published 06/01/2021, 9:28 AM EDT
Tennis – French Open – Roland Garros, Paris, France – May 30, 2021 Picture taken May 30, 2021 Japan’s Naomi Osaka reacts during her first round match against Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Stephen A. Smith, one of the most well-regarded sports presenters and analysts in the United States, has shared his thoughts on the shock withdrawal of women’s World No.2 Naomi Osaka from the French Open. The reigning Australian Open champion on Monday broke the news on Twitter with a message detailing the reasons why she chose to pull out of the event.


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The withdrawal is being seen as a fallout of the furor over her decision not to attend press conferences during the French Open. In her tweet, she revealed that she had been battling mental illness over the last couple of years and had also struggled with anxiety before facing the media.

The Japanese star added that she decided to withdraw from Roland-Garros as she didn’t want the controversy over her press boycott to take the focus away from tennis and create a needless distraction for players and fans.


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Naomi Osaka revealed she’s been battling mental illness over the last 2 years

Osaka claimed she’s an introvert and not particularly good at public speaking, which is why she finds it more “stressful” than others to face the media.

While her decision has evoked sympathy and support from many of her Tour mates, including Serena Williams and Coco Gauff, the controversy has yet again put the spotlight on concerns surrounding mental health in the sport.

During his show on ESPN, Smith dwelt on the issue at length saying it takes a lot of courage to come out with mental illness and Osaka must be commended for revealing the actual reason for her press boycott.

However, he added that one must also acknowledge that meeting the press is part of the regular commitment of a professional tennis player and being one herself, is bound by the same obligation.

Media helps promote the sport: Stephen A Smith on Osaka Pullout

“She’s a professional and what she was asked to do by the French Open is what she’s asked everywhere in the world of professional tennis, as is the case with many other professional sports leagues,” Smith said.

He added that it’s a part of a player’s professional contract to respect and fulfill media obligations as it is the press that helps promote the sport.

“You have media obligations, they are a part of your contractual obligations because the media assists in helping the sport, promote the sport, which ultimately facilitates (in) you not only getting the recognition and notoriety you deserve but the dollars that come along with it,” he added.

Tennis -WTA Premier 5 – Italian Open – Foro Italico, Rome, Italy – May 12, 2021, Japan’s Naomi Osaka looks dejected after losing her second-round match against Jessica Pegula of U.S. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Watch This Story: “Absolutely Devastating”: Fans React As Naomi Osaka Pulls Out From French Open Following Press Conference Controversy


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Despite all the noise around her media boycott, Osaka had opened her Roland-Garros campaign with a straight-set win over Patricia Maria Tig.


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However, with the controversy getting bigger and the French Tennis Federation imposing a $15,000 fine and even threatening her with expulsion from the tournament, the 23-year-old decided to withdraw herself.


Priyabrata Chowdhury

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Priyabrata Chowdhury is a tennis author for EssentiallySports. He has been a print journalist for a decade, producing news pages for leading national dailies such as the Hindustan Times and The New Indian Express. His passion for sports eventually drove him to tennis writing.