Right-wing media make Naomi Osaka’s announcement about everything but mental health

After professional tennis player Naomi Osaka announced she would withdraw from the French Open to take care of her mental health, conservative media downplayed her concerns and instead emphasized that her decision was primarily a result of fines and part of a “media boycott.”

On May 26, Osaka -- a four-time Grand Slam singles champion -- announced on Twitter that she would not be participating in news conferences during the French Open this year. The 23-year-old athlete cited mental health concerns and explained that she’s seen too many athletes break down during press events. The French Tennis Federation, which requires athletes to do press conferences, fined Osaka $15,000 for not fulfilling her “contractual media obligations” and warned of additional penalties. 

Osaka formally withdrew from the tournament on May 31, revealing that she has suffered from “long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018” and “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the media. Osaka continued on to say she is stepping away from the court for a while but wants to help find ways to protect players’ mental health in the future.

Athletes including basketball player Stephen Curry, tennis player Venus Williams, and gymnast Laurie Hernandez rallied around Osaka after her “impressive” decision to step back amid her three-year battle with depression and social anxiety.

Despite her transparent announcement, right-wing media framed her decision as a “media boycott,” suggested her withdrawal was chiefly the result of being fined rather than for mental health reasons, and questioned how she could be “afraid of a room full of reporters”:

  • In two Breitbart articles, both published on June 1, reporter Jacob Bliss called Osaka’s decision to leave the French Open a “media boycott” in the headlines.
  • In a brief mention of her announcement during the June 1 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, co-anchor Bill Hemmer falsely stated that Osaka found the press’s questions “too tough and they made her uncomfortable.” (In her announcements, Osaka described her relationships with journalists as “friendly” and said that “the tennis press has always been kind to me.”)
  • During the June 1 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered, Fox contributor Charles Hurt completely ignored the point of Osaka’s announcement and said athlete interviews are a “cliche trainwreck” and that he just wants to see them play the sport. Co-host Kayleigh McEnany said she knows firsthand that “the media can be vicious” but she wished Osaka could “block them out.”
  • During the June 1 edition of Fox News’ America Reports, Fox’s Howard Kurtz called it “jarring” that someone as successful and “tough as nails on the court” as Osaka could be “afraid of a room full of reporters” and “blow off the obligatory press conferences at the French Open because of her so-called ‘mental health.’” 
  • The headline in a June 1 article at The Federalist claimed Osaka quit the tournament “so she doesn’t have to talk to press.” The article also gave six of its 11 paragraphs to athletes and media figures who did not agree with Osaka’s decision, including British TV personality Piers Morgan, who called her “an arrogant spoiled brat whose fame and fortune appears to have inflated her ego to gigantic proportions” and said her withdrawal from competition was meant “to avoid legitimate media scrutiny by weaponizing mental health to justify her boycott.”
  • In a May 31 Washington Examiner article, the headline and opening paragraphs implied Osaka left the tournament because she was fined for not speaking with the media rather than because she needs to take care of her mental health, which was not mentioned until the third paragraph. 
  • The headline and initial paragraphs of a June 1 Daily Caller article similarly framed Osaka’s decision as the result of the fine for not “fulfilling her press obligations during the tournament” and did not reference her mental health concerns until later in the piece.