There remains an unhealthy obsession some have with tennis star Naomi Osaka — mainly people on the right — that borders on absurd. The latest example comes from a former Fox host who once insisted that Santa Claus could only be white.
Remember that Osaka dropped out of the French Open, citing mental health issues triggered by participating in news conferences. It was a brave decision, and while mental health issues are intensely private and complex, she handled it all with remarkable class.
Since her decision, Osaka has appeared on a number of magazine covers, and this is where things start to get really weird. And cruel.
It was initially two high-profile right-wingers who went after Osaka. First was Clay Travis, who suggested that because she appeared on the magazines, her mental health claims were fabricated.
“Since saying she’s too introverted to talk to the media after tennis matches, Naomi Osaka has launched a reality show, a Barbie, and now is on the cover of the SI swimsuit issue,” Travis tweeted.
“Let’s not forget the cover of (& interview in) Vogue Japan and Time Mag!” Megyn Kelly tweeted.
What made both of these tweets remarkable goes beyond their harshness. There was a purposefulness as well. It was to make Osaka look like a fraud. What’s incredible is that it’s highly likely, if not certain, both Travis and Kelly know that magazines have months-long advance times from the moment a cover photo is shot until publication. They know there’s a good chance the covers were conceived before Osaka took action before the French Open.
In fact, they would have to be incredibly stupid to not know this, and while those two are many things, they are not dumb, which means they potentially knowingly cantilevered a fake notion to their combined millions of followers. The same could be said for Piers Morgan.
This was exactly Osaka’s point in her since-deleted tweet responding to Kelly: “Seeing as you’re a journalist I would’ve assumed you would take the time to research what the lead times are for magazines, if you did that you would’ve found out I shot all of my covers last year. Instead your first reaction is to hop on here and spew negativity, do better Megyn.”
At the core of all of this is control. It’s control mixed in with a number of other combustibles, like race, misogyny and expectations about how athletes are supposed to react.
There’s still a significant swath of people who do not like when athletes take control of their own lives. That criticism becomes even more strident if the athlete attempting to control their own life is a woman, and especially if it’s a woman of color.
It’s not a coincidence that the three highest-profile Osaka antagonist coagulants are white.
It’s also not a coincidence that many of Osaka’s biggest backers have been Black women. They know what’s up.
One of the things some people aren’t seeing, and perhaps refuse to, is that athletes like Osaka are the future. How they deal with the media, how they control their image, how they protect themselves, will look different to many of us. This … is a good thing.
We’ll all just have to adapt. If Osaka blows off a presser but decides to appear on the cover of Time instead, well, so what? As someone who has covered thousands of press conferences, they are among the more overrated features of sports journalism. Few of them are actually productive. I’m not a journalist advocating for less access. That would be silly. But I’ve learned that journalists have to adapt to 21st-century sports, where athletes sometimes push for more control of their images and lives.
At the end of this mess, Kelly shared a screenshot that Osaka had blocked her. Kelly made it seem like some sort of badge of honor, failing to see what it really was.
It was Osaka, again, smartly protecting herself.
Just as she should.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Naomi Osaka doesn’t owe Megyn Kelly or Clay Travis anything
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