Naomi Osaka has taken a stance. Today Roland-Garros, and it seems the folks running the other Grand Slam tournaments, have come together to take theirs. Osaka will not address the media at the French Open and she will be fined $15,000. The Grand Slam tournaments released a statement today.
From the release:
"Following the lack of engagement by Naomi Osaka, the Australian Open, Roland-Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open jointly wrote to her to check on her well-being and offer support, underline their commitment to all athletes’ well-being and suggest dialog on the issues. She was also reminded of her obligations, the consequences of not meeting them and that rules should equally apply to all players.
Naomi Osaka today chose not to honour her contractual media obligations. The Roland-Garros referee has therefore issued her a $15,000 fine, in keeping with article III H. of the Code of Conduct.
The mental health of players competing in our tournaments and on the Tours is of the utmost importance to the Grand Slams."
This could be quite a stand-off between Osaka and the people running these tennis tournaments. They want her to talk to the press. She doesn't want to talk, citing her mental health as the reason she won't. Presumably, she will continue to ignore her press responsibilities and the tournaments will continue to fine her.
The thing is, she can afford it. Osaka made a record $37 million last year. What's her mental health worth to her?
Wimbledon starts in late June and the US Open at the end of August. There are many other tournaments before, between and after those events, including the Olympics, but if Osaka shows up for the big ones, we will re-live this newscycle and it's safe to assume the fines will follow. (Smaller tournaments probably wouldn't risk a fine over the possibility of her walking, but who knows.)
If she's getting hit with a single $15,000 fine every Grand Slam, that seems like a no-brainer for Osaka who will make that back just by getting through qualifying. However, the statement also carries a threat of escallation if she doesn't take the $15,000 hint.
"We have advised Naomi Osaka that should she continue to ignore her media obligations during the tournament, she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences. As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament (Code of Conduct article III T.) and the trigger of a major offence investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions (Code of Conduct article IV A.3.)."
Higher fines and maybe disqualification. How far are both sides wiling to go? Will Osaka take the DQ and walk away rather than sit in the press room so she won't be fined? Will the French Open, or any of the other tournaments really default one of the top players in the world? This seems like a pretty high stakes game of chicken.
For Osaka, there could be even more at stake. At 23, she's standing up for her own well-being and if she can't do this, who can? Kyrie Irving tried something similar during basketball season (minus the explicit mention of mental health) and was fined $35,000. Irving has been speaking with the press recently.
If Osaka gives in, she's doing it to her own detriment. If she doesn't, the French Open has to fine her a few more times and then send her home. That's not what anyone in the sport wants to see happen to their biggest star, but if someone doesn't come up with another option, that's where we're headed.
Osaka's next match is June 2nd. Stay tuned.