osaka (268101)

Hey, ya’ll, it’s rough out here.

Definitely needing the compassionate advice and leadership of former CEO and President of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), Katrina Adams (the first African-American woman to be the grand poobah of professional tennis, who had recently retired and just written a solid book on her experiences at the top), young phenom Naomi Osaka, the national pride of both Japan and Haiti, and winner of three majors, was publicly hurting.

Ms. Osaka had just publicly reported on social media and in the regular press that she would not be doing the required player interviews after each of her matches at this year’s French Open. Such press commitments are not only expected, but contractual for players in all tour tournaments, especially in the majors, of which the French Open is certainly one. Ms. Osaka said that losing matches made her depressive and she certainly did not feel like discussing such events (she described it as reporters kicking someone when they’re already down—asking stupid questions players have usually already answered elsewhere). She has not even come close to winning a big clay court tournament like the French Open, and so she expected to lose. So, right off the bat, she laid it out that she would not be entertaining the press at the tournament.

The organizers of the tournament hit back at her hard, first fining her $15,000 (she’s mega-rich, the highest paid female athlete in the world, so she didn’t care about that), then threatening to kick her out of the French Open and all subsequent major tournaments this year (Wimbledon, U.S. Open, etc.). How dare she??!!

Her timing could have been better. She also could have used some big girl advice from Adams, as Ms. Adams had done with Serena Williams, both when Serena felt disrespected and discriminated against by the rules when her number 1 world ranking was withdrawn when she announced she was pregnant (they labeled it an injury) a few months after winning the Australian Open), and when she had that galactic meltdown in the U.S. Open in 2019. Sometimes, one just needs the strong advice of someone who’s been there, done that.

Naomi Osaka, though she’s received very strong backing and support for her stance from Williams and other major stars, did not have such counsel before she took her stand. And when you make such a decision on your own and at first stand alone, it can be more than just rocky. It can end you, or at least your career. Ms. Osaka has now voluntarily withdrawn from the French Open tournament, and has said she will take some substantial time away from playing tennis at all.

She is a very, very good player on the way to being great. Hopefully, this one monumental decision does not ruin her career.

We recommend that she take some time and talk to the sisters—Japanese and all, she identifies herself as Black—like Venus, Serena and/or Adams. They’ve all done things their own way in professional tennis, as much as they could push it, and they’ve ridden on through it all. Seems there’s some teaching and healing to be done.

By the way, Adams’ new book is “Own the Arena: Getting Ahead, Making a Difference, and Succeeding as the Only One.” It is a birds-eye view of the mostly White tennis world through the eyes of a strong, competent Black woman. It is well written and incisive.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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