World number two ranked tennis player, Naomi Osaka has pulled out of the ongoing French Open. Her unplanned exit from the competition stems from the controversy her decision to not grant press interviews has generated and the consequent threat by the tennis body to fine her heavily and ban her from future tournaments if she sticks to her decision. The 23-year-old cited challenges with depression as the premise for her aversion to pressers. Some people are sympathetic to her plight while others are unimpressed. To the latter, Osaka chose the wrong time to air her views…
The debates that have ensued from this matter has once again thrown up the often underrated challenge introverts have managing the spotlight that comes with fame,
So, on one hand, they are excellent at what they do. There is no doubt that they love it and are in their best elements when they are able to showcase their incredible skill, but they are also wary of being the centre of attention.
So much so that fame is inevitable, especially when they find career paths that thrust them in the eye of the public. On the other hand, they are ill-prepared for the attention that forms an avoidable part of their new status.
It’s why the likes of Naomi Osaka will have a running battle with the ‘monster they have created’—their genius—the brilliance that has announced them to the world.
Critics sneer when the famous introvert complains. “They should know that pressers and multitudes of adoring fans some of whom will be toxic or can pose a danger are a part of the deal, so this pity party doesn’t quite cut it.” And sometimes, I think I get it: how can someone who chose a path knowing all the appurtenances that come with it claim they cannot cope with the pressure halfway through?
In a society that is obsessed with celebrities, fandom and sharing information no matter how confidential it is, fame and privacy are parallel lines; they do not meet.
And so, it’s easy to understand how the self-contained would struggle to fit in.
Nevertheless, a cursory glance into the past reveals that many famous people across disciplines ranging from science to politics to entertainment are introverts who found success despite their natural predilection. Iconic movie director, Steven Spielberg, maverick business magnate, Elon Musk, biologist, Charles Darwin, and democrat politicians, Hillary Clinton, and Barrack Obama are guarded individuals who took fame in their strides.
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Many times, we pray to be rich and famous, failing to consider the downside of our supplication. The reality that your privacy will be encroached on. You’ll no longer be the person who can walk across a busy road to get ice-cream, and the fact that you’ll be bound to some terms your natural self would cringe at.
I imagine this is the way Osaka feels.
Beyond playing tennis and winning laurels while at it, she wants to be left alone.
Unfortunately, scrutiny comes with the territory.
With adulation and resounding success comes the demand to give back in ways that may be at odds with one’s personality.
It’s why I’ll always admire the radio type of popularity where people know your name but not your face. And so, you can get away with many things recognisable people cannot attempt.
However, many times, this is not the case and popular folks have to deal with public scrutiny whether they welcome it or it is a source of anxiety for them.
While fame may be tasking and even frustrating at times, notable figures like Osaka can also not deny the immense goodwill it brings them and it is this overwhelming support and patronage they must consider in their disposition to unwanted attention.
So, you don’t like pressers. Journalists pretty much ask the same questions and probe a little too much for your liking, but how about you suck it up and go through with it or answer in monosyllables or decline to answer outright.
I mean…the rule says you should make yourself available for interviews; it doesn’t compel you to provide answers you do not have or become loquacious to the benefit of the interviewers.
Over the years, Serena Williams has complained about how many times she is asked the playing against Venus Williams question every time the two sisters are scheduled to go against each other, yet, she mutters a few words in response, out of respect for the organisers of the competition, I presume.
I think Naomi Osaka should tow the same path. It comes with the territory. She doesn’t want the long lasting legacy she is on course to build to be tainted by unnecessary confrontations even though she has a right to speak up and look out for herself.
However, it’s a good thing the conversation about the mental health of athletes has been brought to the fore. And the tennis association, rather than remain rigid with rules, constantly need to review them to ensure they aren’t infringing on human rights.
Ololade Ajekigbe is a communications professional. She blogs at Lolo’s thoughts