Sponsors applaud Naomi Osaka’s ‘courage’ on mental health

Today, at least for Naomi Osaka’s corporate sponsors, it’s being hailed as refreshingly honest.

This explains why the four-time Grand Slam champion announced on Monday why so many people are stoked by Osaka that she was pulling out of the French Open because she didn’t want to appear for pre-required news conferences that caused her to be “big”. Waves” Anxiety.”

Osaka, who also admitted to suffering from “long bouts of depression”, has received criticism from some who say the media incidents are just “part of the job”. But Nike, Sweetgreen and other sponsors made statements in support of the 23-year-old star after she revealed her struggles.

“Our thoughts are with Naomi. We support her and recognize her courage in sharing her mental health experience,” Nike said in a statement. SweetGreen tweeted that its partnership with Osaka is “rooted in wellness in all its forms.” And Mastercard tweeted: “Naomi Osaka’s decision reminds all of us how important it is to prioritize individual health and wellbeing.”

Alan Adamson, co-founder of marketing consultancy Metaforce, said Osaka’s revelations have made him a more authentic spokesperson — and more valuable to corporate sponsors.

He said, “Every athlete gets sports sponsorship because they win games or do well. But the best people become true brand ambassadors when they have a broad personality. The best brand ambassadors are real people. ( Osaka) talking about an issue that is relevant to many people. Mental health is a bigger issue than winning or losing tennis.”

American tennis player Reilly Opelka, seed 32 at the French Open, who plays her third round match on Friday, told the Associated Press she was glad Osaka was “taking time to get better.”

“He’s one of the best players in the world – he’s very impressive,” Opelka said. “The sport needs him. He is an icon. Not being around one of the main attractions of the game is bad for the sport.”

Osaka, who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, moved with her family to the United States when she was 3 years old and now lives in Los Angeles.

She has played a major role in protests against the death of George Floyd and other black people last year at the hands of police, wearing a mask with a different victim’s name on each match day at the 2020 US Open. She was named the 2020 AP Female Athlete of the Year.

According to Forbes, Osaka is the world’s highest-paid female athlete, earning $37 million in 2020 from blue-chip sponsors such as Tag Heuer, Airbnb and Louis Vuitton, in addition to Mastercard and Nike.

Nike has stood by sports stars after other controversies, including Tiger Woods following the 2009 sex scandal and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick after taking a knee during games to protest police brutality against black people. But it recently kicked off Brazilian soccer star Neymar after he refused to cooperate with an internal investigation into allegations of sexual assault from a Nike employee.

Osaka’s disclosure comes as celebrities and other public figures openly address their own issues with depression and anxiety. Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle shared their experiences with Oprah Winfrey in a televised interview and have since teamed up with her to create a mental health-focused series called “The Me You Can’t See,” in which Prince Harry worries. Let’s talk about working through. and sorrow.

Osaka also joins a growing list of top-tier athletes speaking out about mental health. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, NBA players Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan, and WNBA’s Aja Wilson have all spoken very publicly about their bouts with depression, sharing their successes and failures.

Four Grand Slam tournaments reacted to Osaka’s return by pledging to do more to address the players’ mental health issues. Windy Dees, a professor of sports administration at the University of Miami, said the episode could also serve as a turning point for professional tennis tours – and leagues in other sports – to protect the mental, and not just physical, health of athletes. for.

“It’s a growth opportunity for (the Women’s Tennis Federation) and all leagues as a whole, there’s a lot of work to do,” Dees said.

Marketing consultant Adamson believes Osaka’s decision to come forward will encourage many more athletes to open up about their mental health battles. He said that if Osaka had disclosed his bouts with depression 10 years ago, his corporate sponsors would likely have stayed on edge because the issue was taboo. But, he said, the pandemic has raised awareness about mental illness.

According to a survey by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Census Bureau, from August 2020 to February, the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder increased from 36.4% to 41.5%.

The survey also found that the percentage of those who reported did not receive the support they needed to increase from 9.2% to 11.7%. The increase was highest among adults aged 18-29 and those with less than a high school education.

Ken Duckworth, chief medical officer of the National Coalition on Mental Illness, said Osaka’s decision to go public is a positive development for all those who feel isolated.

“We’re moving from mental health and mental illness to a ‘they’ thing as a ‘we’ thing,” he said. “These are pretty normal human problems. And I firmly believe that isolation and shame directly contribute to people not getting help. I look up to a great athlete, an extraordinary athlete, a potential role model.”


AP Sportswriter Howard Fendrich in Washington, DC contributed to this report.


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