Culture Hack

Culture Hack

Why Multicultural Athletes Have Always Been Targeted by the Press

Earlier this month, the world’s No. 2 in tennis, Naomi Osaka, decided to withdraw from the French Open. It wasn’t because of an injury or a family emergency and far from being about the 23-year-old’s ability to compete. It was for her mental health. The days leading up to the competition, Osaka had made it clear that she would not be participating in any of the tournament’s press engagements in an effort to preserve her mental health. Osaka took to Twitter to explain her anxiety, saying that she is “not a natural public speaker and [gets] huge waves of anxiety before [she speaks] to the world’s media.” 

Despite Osaka’s bravery in admitting her public engagement flaws, all the four-time major winner was given by tournament officials were threats of elimination and fines. From her fellow athletes — especially athletes of color — Osaka received an outpouring of support, understanding, and encouragement to do what she felt she needed to do. Sadly, this support had less to do with the fact that Osaka is loved and appreciated by most for her skills (which she is) and more to do with the fact that this antagonization of multicultural athletes is nothing new. 

Marshawn Lynch, the Williams sisters, Colin Kaepernick, and Lebron James are only a few Black athletes that, similar to Osaka, have had to endure the pressures of the media. Whether it be scrutiny on their unwillingness to speak on their personal lives away from the game or the use of their platform to stand for something, these athletes were never granted the same respect in the eyes of the media that they earned in their sports. So why is it that some of the most respected, most inspirational people in the world cannot decide how to interact with the press the way they’d like to?

The way that athletes of color are treated in the public is an issue that goes far beyond systemic racism, though that is part of the problem. It’s this idea that trophy winners should just be that, neutral territory for anyone of any systemic belief system can support and not feel conflicted about. For far too long, many have seen these players of games as just that. But they are more than jersey numbers or highest records; they are people who have the power to change and are willing to use that power for good. They are people who dedicate their days to intense training and play but certainly deserve all the time off the court to focus on their mental health. They are figures of health and wellness and should be healthy and well even when they’re recovering from the games they know.

Though there is no one solution to fully supporting athletes of color, it is clear that the pressure needs to be turned away from them and onto the press and officials tethered to their game. Exploiting people for their crafts while trying to reveal their personal life vulnerabilities is no longer an acceptable option.