The highest paid woman in sports has defiantly put down her racket for the second time this year!
The initial narrative imposed by the sport (commentators, pundits, players) had Osaka in the role of bad actor. And like Stockholm Syndrome victims, players parroted the party line and some even ridiculed her. Then the French Open posted a scurrilous tweet, labeling her privileged, ungrateful, difficult. The now deleted tweet, showed a photo of prominent players at post match press conferences with the caption, “they understood the assignment.” Social media erupted. The global press followed suit. The sport had closed ranks, intending to simultaneously strong-arm and ostracize Osaka. They failed! What began as a statement of self-care has magnified to the point of no return.
Osaka vs. Tennis: Disagreement, Protest. Kerfuffle. War.
Every media outlet is reporting on the Naomi Osaka debacle. Sport and non-sport. Print and broadcast. Professional and amateur journalist. They all found an angle to weigh in on tennis’ biggest story of the year. The problem, too many are unfamiliar with the niche sport. Stories are coached in misleading, if not untrue, narratives. Worst, the media at large fail to hold the sport accountable for its many short-comings.
There is a difference between the press and tennis media.
Tennis operates off the radar of most sports journalists. Even ESPN and The NY Times do not have writers and broadcasters dedicated to tennis. So, though tennis is a global sport with an eleven month schedule, the press group is relatively small. It is composed of approximately thirty people, mostly freelancers. The players know them. The tournaments sanction them. The relationship is more symbiotic than adversarial. Tennis media are largely glorified note takers. They are active on social media, and their relationship with serious tennis fans is more combative than raillery, good-humored teasing.
Of course, tennis is pro-press, they own them!
Tennis is much like a traveling circus, at least pre-covid. The post match press conferences is not the only time the media interacts with the players. Each tournament organizes a litany of media opportunities, pre and post match. Yet, the cadre do not produce in-depth, analytical or investigative stories. Their fluff supports prevailing, sanctioned, tennis narratives. Their silence on domestic violence, sexual abuse and the sport’s notorious nepotism and conflicts of interests is deafening.
In Osaka vs. Tennis, the tennis press is not exploring the mental health, misogynoir, the role of the press or bullying angles. For this one needs to look beyond tennis’ sycophant ‘journalists’ to Louisa Thomas at the New Yorker, Michel Martin at NPR, Jonathan Liew at the Guardian, Jemele Hill at The Atlantic… Whether incompetent, compromised or silenced by tournaments, sponsors or sport agencies (IMG, Edge, Octagon…), tennis’ press system is seriously flawed, if not broken.
Tennis media silence on domestic violence, sexual abuse, player owned tournaments is deafening.
Without an independent press to hold it accountable, the sport is floundering. It is disorganized; television scheduling is erratic and ineffective; match-fixing is as rampant as its misogynoir; labor organizing is patriarchial; injuries are increasing exponentially; retiring stars will leave an unfillable vacuum… Under the weight of these issues, the sport may have finally come to a fork in the road. But it will fall due to its unwillingness to see a black woman’s pain, to hear her protests when it has sprouted angelic wings of protection for the short-comings, criminal or immoral, of players who lack melanin!
Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from Wimbledon highlights the shifting dynamics in what was once the most exclusive sport. Black players are unwilling to just shut-up and play. They are are doing what the Legislative, Judicial and Executive branches of our government are unable or unwilling to do, push beyond rhetoric and federal holiday tokens to real change. Will tennis recognize its original sin or die a shameful, unrepentant death?