by Matt Barkett

June 3, 2021

The post-game press conference. It’s a tradition going back a hundred years: a place where coaches and athletes have had to face the media in the best and worst moments of their sports lives.

Media have somehow managed to convince the leagues they cover that the press conference has evolved into a right that cannot be denied, regardless of the circumstances. Athletes are expected to walk away from the heat of competition sometimes after incredible frustration or disappointment and immediately face the media, many of whom secretly hope for emotional displays to make their stories even more attractive.

Is all that about to change? Perhaps a young tennis star’s recent refusal to play the media’s game lends some clues. Naomi Osaka, a 23-year-old professional tennis player, indicated on social media that she would not take the podium to face the media following her French Open matches due to mental health concerns.

Shockingly, she was then fined $15,000 by French tournament officials in a response to one of today’s hot button societal issues – mental health. She subsequently withdrew from the tournament, citing ongoing mental health concerns and her mistreatment by tournament officials. She also announced she would be taking some time away from tennis, which is a blow to a sport in need of young stars on the rise.

Support for Osaka poured in from the sport’s top players and many other high-profile athletes around the world, decrying the actions of tournament officials and citing similar issues with these pressure cooker media environments immediately following competition. What changes are likely? Time will tell as professional tennis leadership pledges to study the situation and make changes.

It’s hard to imagine the traditional post-game press conference disappearing entirely. A first step may be to help players take a breath and redefine the parameters of what is required versus when it’s okay to say, “I’m just not up for it right now” without facing drastic penalties that simply add to the pressure even more.