The French Open (FO) is one of the most prestigious Grand Slam tournaments on the ATP tour. The FO is played on clay courts, and players from all over the globe take great pride in participating. Serena Williams, Sofia Kenin, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer were participating, but where was Naomi Osaka a few weeks ago? Who is Naomi Osaka and why isn’t she continuing to participate in one of the most famous tournaments in the world?
Naomi Osaka is the highest-paid female athlete in sports history. Osaka now dominates the WTA as she sits #2 in the world. She is well known for her flawless tennis play on court, but Osaka’s stance as a civil rights activist while discussing issues of racism, social consciousness and mental health has shaped her reputation. Osaka brands herself as an athlete who uses her platform and global following to deliver messages about her beliefs. Philosophically, she aligns closely with other athletes who vowed to do the same thing, including Lebron James, Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe.
When the news broke that Osaka would not conduct any post-match interviews with the media to draw awareness to mental health, and more specifically mental health issues amongst athletes that are directly triggered by the media, it was nothing new. And the league knew they had to respond to enforce their rules and regulations. The WTA decided to fine Osaka $15,000 for not participating in the post-game interviews. Shortly thereafter, Osaka withdrew from the tournament and tweeted she was “taking some time away from the court now.” This created a wave of concern across the sports world and many athletes responded to Osaka with sympathy and support.
Osaka did what many big brands often don’t do – embrace authenticity. Osaka may have lost money from not participating in the FO, but not all currency is financial – Osaka gained tremendous personal and professional reputational equity by taking this stance. Osaka made a very impactful decision that she did out of pure genuineness and passion. She stayed true to herself and her brand. Osaka’s mission to shed light on mental health amongst athletes enabled her to further establish her own identity; and, many prominent leaders commended for her braveness. Big brands like Adidas, Nike, Beats by Dre, GoDaddy, Nissan and others supported Osaka. They realized the importance of her authenticity and the issues at hand.
We always tell our clients to be authentic and follow your North star – integrity is paramount. Corporate social responsibility is alive and well, this includes personal brands, like Osaka. Consumers want to align with brands with similar values. You can be certain the court of public opinion will vote with their voices, their feet, and their wallets.
We commend Osaka for taking a bold, needed stance and hope that all involved with professional and amateur sports recognize the pressures athletes feel both on and off ‘the court.’ That said, recognizing is not enough. Those who support athletes at all levels must do everything possible to protect each athlete’s mental health. This includes managing the court of public opinion, whether on a television network or social media platform.
For more information about managing the court of public opinion, contact Fallston Group at firstname.lastname@example.org.