After Naomi Osaka announced she wouldn’t participate in press conferences during the French Open, the tennis world’s powers that be bullied one of the sport’s greatest stars and threatened her with future penalties.
Ultimately, Osaka withdrew from the French Open earlier this week and said she’s taking some time away from tennis, citing her concerns for her mental health among the reasons for her decision.
“The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that,” she wrote in a statement on social media. “Anyone that knows me knows I’m introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety.”
For most people, it’s difficult to genuinely imagine what Osaka is going through after being thrown into the international spotlight with that U.S. Open win — her first of four Grand Slam victories.
At just 23 years old, she’s one of the most popular and successful tennis players in the world, but that doesn’t mean she’s immune to depression, anxiety or other mental health issues. And the outpouring of support for her, particularly from professional athletes, was swift and abundant.
While NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s fame and platform isn’t on the same level of Osaka’s, he’s able to empathize with her experiences.
In the last few years, Wallace has spoken openly about his challenges with depression and some of his methods for coping. Like several other athletes who speak publicly about mental health, he said in 2019 that he’s “never looked at it as a sign of weakness or coming out and talking about any issue.”
He recently shared his perspective on what Osaka is going through right now.
“Showing your signs of what you’re going through is not a sign of weakness,” Wallace told NBC Sports. “It’s actually very powerful and encouraging others to speak out and to be strong about what they feel.”
“Any profession you do, you grow up and practice how to play tennis, you grow up and practice how to race cars. Everything else falls into place, talking in front of media, talking in front of crowds, being a public speaker. None of that is practiced. … I can totally relate to what she’s saying. It’s tough for anybody.
“It may come more natural for (some) people, but at the end of the day, it’s still tough. It’s something that we’re not comfortable with just because we didn’t practice or learn it growing up.
“It just happens, ‘Oh by the way you need to talk to people after you make your qualifying run here.’ ‘Uh, OK.’ I can see where the anxiety builds up. You say one wrong thing, people lash out at you. It definitely puts you in a bad mindset. Definitely can relate on all levels there. Introvert, extrovert. It’s still a tough task to, I guess, be good at or just be comfortable with.”