Former tennis great and activist Billie Jean King gingerly reminded press-boycotting superstar Naomi Osaka on Sunday that players “have a responsibility to make ourselves available to the media.”
Osaka, who has advanced to the second round of the French Open, announced last week that she would not participate in press interviews at the Grand Slam event to help protect her mental health. She skipped the press conference following her first-round victory, incurring a $15,000 fine and a threat of tournament suspension.
“I fully admire and respect what Naomi is doing with her platform, so I am a little torn as I try to learn from both sides of this situation,” King began a note posted to Twitter, before bringing up the positive impact the press has had on tennis. “In our day, without the press, nobody would have known who we are or what we thought. There is no question they helped build and grow our sport to what it is today.”
“I acknowledge things are very different now with social media and everyone having an immediate ability to speak their truth,” continued King, a major figure in gender equality who formed the Women’s Tennis Association and has won 39 Grand Slam titles. “The media still play an important role in telling our story. There is no question that the media needs to respect certain boundaries. But at the end of the day it is important that we respect each other and we are in this together.”
Twitter users appeared torn on the matter. Some sided with King while some accused her of being insensitive. Others applauded Osaka for making a stand. Many suggested the tennis star simply decline to answer questions she felt were inappropriate and others said the media needed to be more accountable.
Osaka’s sister, Mari, blamed the tennis champ’s media silence in part on repeated questions about her relative lack of success playing on clay surfaces.