Just in time for National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, star tennis player Naomi Osaka wrote the cover story for TIME Magazine’s July 8 issue. In “It’s O.K. Not to Be O.K.,” Osaka discusses why she decided to put her mental health first, her decision to not participate in the French Open and her plans for the Tokyo Olympics. She also recalls the lessons she learned from the media’s reaction – and backlash – to her choices.
“Issues that are so obvious to me at face value, like wearing a mask in a pandemic or kneeling to show support for anti-racism, are ferociously contested,” she wrote.
In May, Osaka released a statement explaining her withdrawal from the French Open, saying that she suffers from “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the media. In her TIME feature, Osaka dispelled the belief that she withdrew from the French Open because of press criticism, stating that she felt that “the press-conference format itself is out of date and in great need of a refresh” and can become better once it becomes “Less subject vs. object; more peer to peer.”
Osaka also lamented that as a professional athlete, people treat her mental health needs skeptically. She recounted the “great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms—frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me.” Osaka implored readers to remember that athletes are human, and needing to disclose the details of their mental health issues is something most people don’t have to do in the workplace.
But throughout the controversy, Osaka was thankful for her support system of family and friends. She also expressed gratitude for fellow celebrities and professional athletes including: Michelle Obama, Michael Phelps, Steph Curry, Novak Djokovic, and Meghan Markle, who reached out to show their care.
While Osaka affirmed that she doesn’t feel comfortable being a spokesperson about athlete mental health, she does hope that “people can relate and understand it’s O.K. to not be O.K., and it’s O.K. to talk about it. There are people who can help, and there is usually light at the end of any tunnel.”