Naomi Osaka just set a new standard for mental health in the global sports community. To say I’m proud would be an understatement! My name twin has been killing the game; at her young age of 23, she’s been breaking records and turning heads with her immense skill, and her passion for the game of tennis. She won a place in my heart, with her silent, but intentional wearing of masks during the US Open last year, each mask bearing the name of 7 victims from racially motivated murders in the United States. She honored the fallen: Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile, and Tamir Rice, wearing a new mask, with a new name, each day of the competition.
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In her open letter regarding the press she received for wearing these masks, Naomi wrote “Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman. And as a black woman, I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis…” And this year, when challenged with regards to the 2021 French Open and the mandatory press for athletes, Naomi brought the same exact energy. The facts are simple – Naomi chose to preemptively opt out of the press conferences that follow the daily tennis matches during the French Open. In response, the referee fined her $15,000 and the leaders of the tournament threatened to expel her if she insisted on “boycotting” the post-match press conferences. At this point, Naomi withdrew from the competition, sending shockwaves through the French Open, the global press, and of course, the internet.
Naomi has a noticeable humility and grace about her, and as a young woman of both Haitian and Japanese descent, she’s been uniquely saddled with intersectionality. (Sidenote: Now, I encourage any black woman who’s unfamiliar with the term intersectionality to do a mini deep dive on the subject. Intersectionality basically explores the particularly oppressive experiences from those of us, who belong to multiple minority groups at the same time. Naomi Osaka is a perfect example in that she’s (1) a woman, (2) black, and (3) asian.) As you can imagine, belonging to multiple marginalized groups, as a woman in the spotlight, comes with a great deal of pressure and not to mention, egregious slander. When prodded further on her exit from the French Open this year, Naomi opened up on how mental health issues and anxiety were her reason behind both the exit from the competition, and her initial withdrawal from the press conferences.
In my opinion, there has always been a subtle level of racism as it relates to professional athletes, across the NBA, the NFL, MLB, and the like. I’m hardly versed in sports, I just know that major athletes get paid hundreds of millions of dollars to excel in their respective sports. I’ve noticed that especially with black athletes, the press, the fans, the general public, lack empathy with athletes and hardly ever consider their humanity. Fans tend to have this passionate and fiery support, disguised as admiration for the players, but we’ve seen that it can switch to a fiery and brutal bashing of those same players, in a manner of moments. But thankfully, athletes like Naomi are noticing that they don’t have to abide by the same rules and regulations that have worked in the past. She’s taken a huge step in enacting boundaries, particularly where the line has been blurred on what athletes are “supposed” to do and what they’re actually willing to do.
The way I see it, they have the power, and without them, these leagues wouldn’t even exist. There’s been a much-needed change in athletic discourse, spearheaded by Colin Kaepernick, where athletes are risking their careers, to speak out for what’s right. There is so so so much risk involved, and it shouldn’t be understated that when athletes speak up for what’s right, they’re putting endorsements, their careers, their reputations on the line completely. Naomi has made it clear that she would rather walk away than be subject to something that jeopardizes or worsens her mental health. We can all learn from the example that she’s set.
So I ask you – where are you in need of boundaries in your life? Is there a relative that always needs money who you need to lovingly say “no” to this time? Is your boss or team taking up more of your time, now that you’re working from home? Do you need to enact a Do Not Disturb cutoff time to field random calls and texts that may get you off balance? Ask yourself the hard questions here and now, and start small, enacting boundaries where it feels right. Then, take it a step further and enact the boundaries that feel hard and uncomfortable AF to put up. Know that you’ll grow as a result of each boundary you set, and that they may not be easy to up keep. However, they are necessary, and you’re bound to see your life improve as a result of them.
Boundary setting is nothing new, and it will not be going anywhere anytime soon. I like to think of boundaries as energetic protection – they are set for you, by you, and you’re the only one that knows best. So, take Naomi’s lead and grow on girl, you got this!