What Should We Make of the Way Naomi Osaka Showed Up at the Met Gala?
Mental Health Problems or Brand Building?
I recently returned from the US Tennis Open in NYC. While I saw several matches that were compelling, the two that were disappointing were the losses by Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic’s failed attempt to complete the Grand Slam and make tennis history with the most wins by a man with respect to major tournaments.
Today, I want to address what happened to Osaka from a mental health perspective going back to the French Open where she criticized the media for how they treat her and the questions they ask. After declining to be interviewed by the press before the French Open, Osaka decided to drop out of the tournament just days before it began and was criticized in some circles for her decision.
Osaka had shared her mental health concerns and that drew many to her defense and she ushered in a national debate about mental health issues and athletes. You may remember the case of Simone Biles not being able to participate in all gymnastic events at the Tokyo Olympics because of mental health considerations. These are real issues for athletes who become superstars because of their accomplishments and may not be able to handle the notoriety or pressure.
I anxiously awaited Osaka’s appearance at the US Open. Like many Americans, I supported her not only as a player but a humanist, the latter because of the positions she took on matters related to the Black Lives Matter movement and her bringing the issues to the public’s awareness.
Osaka lost in the third round and said, in an interview, that she was going to take a break from tennis. She shared that when she wins it’s a relief; when she losses it’s sadness – maybe even depression.
I felt sorry for Osaka and endeavored to understand what might be going on in her mind. No doubt, she was thrust into the spotlight before she was ready – mature enough – to deal with the pressure and expectations of the media after her victory over Serena Williams in 2018.
Now, I’m questioning her true beliefs and motives, and whether she really is so stressed out that she doesn’t know if she will ever play tennis again. Clearly, she doesn’t feel comfortable speaking to the sports media. However, how do we square her behavior with the way she showed up at the September 13 Met Gala? Osaka wore what many criticized as an outlandish dress. Is this the behavior of a shy, tennis player or an exhibitionist using her fame to promote her brand?
It all comes down to branding. Osaka attended the Gala and wore the dress to build her brand in fashion. It seems she is more comfortable in that space. She wore a colorful gown that was co-designed by her sister, Mari Osaka, and Louis Vuitton's Nicolas Ghesquière. And while chatting with Vogue, she revealed that the stunning number was actually inspired by her Japanese and Haitian heritage.
If we are to take Osaka at her word and her deeds, she doesn’t feel comfortable playing tennis: the questions asked by the sports media are taxing; losing is depressing. On the other hand, she does seem to feel comfortable when showing up and building her fashion brand.
What should we make of her statements to the media and actions that tennis isn’t fun anymore? Is it just a passing hiccup in an otherwise admirable start to her career? I would have said yes earlier this month but now I wonder whether she just used the media to cover for her loss of a work ethic and not having the motivation to put in the hours of training needed to compete in the tennis world.
One thing is for sure, she should be working on her mental health issues now not her branding. There is plenty of time to do that later in her career. She seems happy in the fashion space. However, would there be a career path in fashion if she doesn’t resume playing tennis and winning some tournaments? I think not.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on September 21 2021. Steve is the author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.