Tennis star Naomi Osaka shows us sports media needs to change

Let’s talk, indeed.
Image: Getty Images

You can’t ask the media to talk about a story involving the media.

That’s the lesson after Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open after being threatened with expulsion from the tournament due to her media boycott. The furor around it is created by those who think they’re being shortchanged. Did the fans ever think they were going to miss out on something by Osaka not doing post-match pressers? Dicey proposition at best.

Any argument against Osaka strangely benefits the press. And it just seems to be the media whining that their jobs are changing. There’s this idea out there that if Osaka wants to speak out against the issues that really matter to her — as she did at last year’s U.S. Open about police brutality and systematic racism, — she has to pay the toll of day-to-day questioning to earn it. But she doesn’t. She proved that yesterday by clearly explaining her situation on her social media, which she can use however and whenever she wants.

And any athlete can. Sure, it’ll be the message they want out there, delivered how they see fit. But how far away from that are we with teams’ PR and personal PR people guiding everything, as they do now? Stone’s throw at best.

We heard all this last year, as the media wailed that the reduction to Zoom press conferences thanks to the pandemic might become the norm, or that access to locker rooms will be forever banned. And that would irreparably damage coverage going forever. Except journalists in Europe have been working with that condition forever, and there’s no shortage of in-depth and behind-the-scenes stories if you want them. Also, do you feel that what you’ve read about your favorite team is all that different? So who’s really the victim in all this?

There’s been an urge to point out all the players that put up with the media duties in the past, but we have no idea what toll it took. They didn’t have the access or freedom to be open about their problems, as Osaka is now. There could have been dozens who felt the same way, but didn’t feel they had the power to say something. What did it cost them?

This feels like it stems from a profession that has to change form, and those within it are just being stubborn in admitting that. 

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