I never thought it would have caused such a ruckus through the sports world. It's been a massive story globally and extremely divisive. Not as divisive as the Trump administration but divisive nonetheless. Yes, I'm speaking about professional tennis player Naomi Osaka refusing to do a mandated press conference. But let's open up the subject matter a bit further and I'm going to stay away a bit, if I can, from her withdrawal from the tournament citing poor mental health.
My experience has been right up the alley here and from all sides so this is very pointed subject matter to me. To give some context, I've managed professional athletes, ran sporting events, hosted pressies, interviewed athletes, represented the brands with sponsored athletes and given media training to athletes. Contrary to how my beautiful wife would describe me as only seeing black and white, love you Babe, I do see a slight tinge of gray here.
So let's roll with this. Yes, I do believe by and large athletes should be mandated to do pressies. They knowingly worked hard to be "Professionals" in the entertainment sector which makes billions every year. They are voluntarily part of the machine. The fans and other athletes want to hear from them, the fans crave their side of the game and insights from being in the thick of it. I don't have a problem with a league mandating an athlete to be present and answer questions thoughtfully and respectfully. In most jobs there will be things we like and don't like to do and if a player doesn't like the attention (most do anyhow) I get it but it comes with the job. Heck, I hate spreadsheets but I do them because they're vital to the success of the company.
Now onto Naomi. She knew before she flew there that there would be pressies to do and even though she's still young she's now a full on enterprise making an estimated $55 million per year so yes, you'll be asked questions you might not like but you're the top "Professional" player in the world so be PROFESSIONAL.
How about this? Why not use the pressie to bring awareness to your issues and concerns? If they ask how you'll counter Serena's serve why not answer and then pivot to the mental aspects and go into your own description of the mental struggles for athletes. You have the worlds attention so take a chapter from what politicians do when they are being interviewed and give your own thoughts and spin. Use the pressie for a platform to invoke thought and action. You mentioned in an interview not liking some of the questions the press ask. Again, you're a "Professional", it comes with the territory. One of my rubs is that she was already at the event and knew before she flew there that she was going to have to do press so if her mental state was so fragile why even go.
Now you're asking, Lee where's the gray area? The gray area is that this is a young girl with an immense amount of pressure on her who saw huge success early on. I empathize with her since that has to be a monumental task, confusing, sensitive and a huge weight on some young shoulders. I know firsthand how mental illness, depression and the like can affect athletes so if she is dealing with these very difficult issues she's correct to take a step back. I remember Jennifer Capriati and Michael Phelp's struggles and they seemed very challenging to say the least. I'd truly hate to lose such a talent to the game. As a father to a teenage girl I can only imagine the complexities of what she's dealing with and how it's affecting her. Teenagers don't have the same coping skills as adults so I can understand the difficulties she speaks about.
I took a poll on LinkedIn this week asking if professional athletes should be mandated to attend pressies. Here are the results:
Sensitive topic, yes! I don't have an exact position but you can see how I lean. To the amazement of my wife I would say the topic is charcoal gray. Your thoughts? Leave them in the comments section and try not to skewer me too much.