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I performed alongside Jordan. I’ve seen the strain on athletes like Naomi Osaka

| Naomi Osaka

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After I noticed the information of Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open I considered two individuals: my former teammate Michael Jordan and my 13-year-old daughter Imani.

With all due respect to the best basketball participant of all time, household comes first so I’ll cope with him later. So on to Imani. As a lot she has loved me sticking up for my former teammate Kwame Brown’s struggles with the media, she thought it was simply as vital to defend Osaka.

Imani is a large fan of Osaka and it’s straightforward to see why. Not solely is she a superb participant, she can also be an advocate for social justice. I bear in mind the satisfaction Imani felt final summer season when Osaka wore masks eventually yr’s US Open displaying the victims of police brutality, and encouraged people in Japan to hitch a march in help of Black Lives Matter.

Now, I might dive into the hypocrisy of the French Federation Tennis president Gilles Moretton fining Osaka for not taking questions from the media … then having the audacity to refuse to take questions from the media about why he fined her. I might focus on the irony of individuals wanting athletes to close up and dribble, however then complaining after they do.

Nevertheless it was Imani who noticed the humanity in Osaka, who has spoken of her battles with despair and anxiousness. Imani defined to me that Osaka makes use of strategies to cope with her anxiousness similar to sporting headphones earlier than matches and listening to her pulse to calm herself down. She played me a video the place Osaka, via a compelled smile, informed the media at a press convention that she was “so unhappy proper now” and adopted her phrases with a deep breath.

As Imani requested me: “Who of their proper thoughts can’t inform that she is battling despair? Is it simply that they don’t care?”

I informed Imani that the laborious reality: many occasions the media – and, certainly, the broader public – don’t care about what a participant goes via, they simply need the story. I nonetheless bear in mind after I first realized this. I performed alongside Jordan for 2 years with the Washington Wizards. As an NBA participant, I used to be used to a sure stage of recreation however the scrutiny Jordan was below was on a totally totally different stage.


I bear in mind when he was going via his divorce. Sooner or later, I got here in early to get some therapy and noticed MJ turned towards his locker, simply sitting there, taking a look at nothing. He didn’t even hear me stroll into the locker room. After apply, one reporter requested if a divorce was inevitable, and he minimize them proper off, telling them it was none of their enterprise. I turned to our teammate Christian Laettner and mentioned: “Why would they ask him that?” Laettner checked out me and mentioned: “As a result of they don’t have a look at us as people.”

It was powerful sufficient for Jordan to cope with these questions on the time however he was in his late 30s, had been some of the well-known individuals on the planet for greater than a decade and was not, so far as I’m conscious, coping with any psychological well being points. Once we performed, answering questions at press conferences was a boring, often annoying, a part of the job. However think about coping with these questions when, like Osaka, you’re 23, vulnerable to despair and, as Japan’s most well-known athlete, the face of the Tokyo Olympics. No marvel she needed to step away.

If there’s one optimistic from this example it’s that there’s extra consciousness of psychological well being points amongst athletes than after I performed. A torn knee ligament or damaged hand was understood. However despair or anxiousness? No approach.

It’s absurd for an individual who has by no means handled any psychological well being points to even touch upon how somebody like Osaka ought to conduct themselves. So I requested Chamique Holdsclaw, who performed within the WNBA for 11 years and is now a psychological well being advocate and the topic of the documentary Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw.

“I’m so pleased with Naomi for prioritizing her psychological well being on the world’s stage,” she informed me. “As a psychological well being advocate who discovered the braveness to talk out towards the stigma and disgrace of psychological sickness after I retired, I like her fortitude being some of the notable athletes at present, to advocate for self care and understanding that her psychological and bodily well being are each extremely vital. Irrespective of how the media portrays this example or whether or not or not individuals agree with these outdated guidelines and rules, she has made a robust assertion that may positively impression the subsequent era of athletes and younger individuals about psychological well being.”

Hopefully what comes from it is a shift towards viewing athletes as people and never robots or online game characters. It’s nice to see the outpouring of help Naomi Osaka is receiving from athletes similar to Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Serena Williams, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and Laurie Hernandez.

However I’ll depart the ultimate phrases to somebody I do know properly: Imani Thomas of 13U Metro Volleyball East. She wrote: “Naomi Osaka is a really sturdy lady. By leaving the French Open, she taught girls of all ages, all world wide that taking good care of your self is extra vital than something.

What Naomi Osaka’s French Open withdrawal means for tennis – video explainer




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