Naomi Osaka Refuses to Speak at the French Open: And It's Not Her Fault!
The #1 women’s tennis champion Naomi Osaka has chosen not to participate at the French Open, citing mental health issues. While we are very considerate and aware that this brings good attention to international mental health awareness, this is very bad press for both Tennis and her sponsors. Naomi is one of the highest-income earners in her profession, earning tens of millions of dollars a year from her media sponsors. Naomi’s team had more options to manage her disinterest in speaking at the French Open.
As media trainers, one of our concerns is that professional sports leagues are often more averse to receiving media training from an outside consultancy than other major industries. Training Fortune 500 executives with fair criticism is challenging enough for their full-time PR departments. You may be surprised how much more difficult it can be to get proper media training for sports stars. Many all-star sports teams are used to receiving many freebies. When we have been approached for media training by some of the most well-known sports teams globally, more often than not they ask us to train them for free and ask us to cover our flights. Somehow, they think they are doing us a favor by asking us to pay them with our time and opportunity costs. Naturally, we decline these offers, but we are saddened that most consultancies and firms are so used to kissing their feet. Many of these athletes are not receiving the media training skills needed to prevent a public relations crisis from occurring.
Here are three alternatives that Naomi’s team could have done instead of choosing not to speak at the French Open press conferences.
Naomi’s PR team should have trained Naomi with an outside media trainer.
- If she was media trained, she and her colleagues could have had press statements and answers prepared in advance, whether she wins or faces any losses. Because her sponsorships and the tennis league make their living off of her media appearances, she has a clear obligation to make media appearances. One of the most frequent complaints that we receive from clients and prospects who experience either anxiety or mental health symptoms related to making media appearances is that they are afraid of public humiliation. The best way to prevent being publicly humiliated and saving face is to prepare for both worst and best-case scenarios in advance. If Naomi’s team hadn’t overlooked this, then she wouldn’t be experiencing the negative emotions that lead to this unfortunate decision.
- Proper media training also equips the individual with a clear and constructive means to function despite mental health struggles. In the long run, this can prove beneficial not only for their public image but also for their well-being. Many individuals who struggle with mental health showcase a lack of confidence. Proper media training can help address confidence or low self-esteem related to public speaking or media appearances. Coupled with proper healthcare specifically targeted for mental health, media training goes a long way to helping improve the quality of life of a public individual, while simultaneously giving them the capacity to not miss out on important milestones in their careers.
Naomi’s team Could have recorded videos of her in advance to answer pre-vetted questions
- When we have clients who cannot make a media appearance on time due to unforeseen circumstances or mental health issues that are entirely unavoidable, we advise that they create a video for the news outlet or press conference that they were meant to appear in. This is far from being a preferred choice by media outlets or press conferences. Still, it is a good last resort for struggling with either mental health issues or schedule conflicts.
- Clients should ideally be given a choice to do a pre-recorded statement at their discretion using their cellphone. Even something as short as a five-minute video for a media appearance or press conference is a hundred times better than canceling an appearance altogether. Unless someone is hospitalized or has a health condition that interferes with their communication abilities, anyone can speak for five minutes. Naomi’s team could at least meet the minimum obligations from her sponsors by creating a pre-recorded video. They could still use this option to save face for her professional brand.
Naomi’s team should have prepared more resources for mental health issues
- Although mental health awareness is openly advocated, there is sadly very little in the way of actual practice in this department. This is especially true in fields such as media and entertainment, where very little thought is given to the mental health of their stars – until it’s too late. Naomi’s team should have set up ‘roadblocks’ to ensure that the mental health of their leading personality is closely monitored and that her needs are taken care of.
- Her team could have proactively become a platform for mental health awareness by integrating Naomi’s own experience struggling with mental health into her list of personal advocacies. Not only does this help in erasing the stigma associated with mental health problems, but it will also allow her to become more relatable to her adoring fanbase.
The French Tennis Federation Should Have Provided Better Avenues for Mental Health Care
- Mental health is a serious matter, and the greater bulk of responsibility for its implementation falls under large corporate organizations that represent and promote those very talents they sometimes criticize, often very harshly. What is disheartening about it is that it doesn’t leave professional players with the intent to join the federation the sort of impression they need to cultivate their trust and confidence.
- The French Tennis Federation (FFT)’s response to Osaka’s concerns were actually less than stellar, and it showcases a disregard for the wellness of the very people they claim to advocate for and represent. This issue isn’t new. Similar tennis-oriented federations have also had similar problems in the past. If they fail to take care of their talents, that will eventually result their own losing face not only to their members, but to the greater corpus of the sports industry as well.
The Federation Should Also Equip Talents with Media Training Skills
- The need for proper and positive press is important for any organization. As such, the Tennis Federation should also ensure that their talents receive even the bare basics of media training. Not only does this help to lessen press-issues similar to that of Naomi Osaka, but it also allows professional tennis players to properly navigate the world of being a sports celebrity without needing to feel like they’re a fish out of water.
Mental health issues should never be considered an insurmountable hurdle. If you’re a celebrity or brand representative struggling with mental health problems, there is always a middle ground where you can find wellness without sacrificing the possibility for opportunities to advance or cement your career.
Proper media training aims to equip celebrities and their respective PR teams with the necessary skills to mitigate worst-case scenarios and to find alternatives that can be used to address concerns related to media appearances, press releases, conferences, brand promotions, and all the myriad other responsibilities that rest on a celebrity’s shoulders. The critical thing to note is that you aren’t steering the ship alone.
To find out more about how our media training team can help, call us at our toll-free number.