It isn’t just tennis where anyone who covers the game is going to need a refresher or a re-training on how to talk about things. But that’s the one in the news at the moment, as Naomi Osaka has brought the matters of mental health, depression, and anxiety into the spotlight. Tennis being an individual sport means there isn’t an IL list to shroud oneself, or some PR speak from the manager or GM while also directing the media to other players on the team about whatever other stories are around. It’s just you on the court, and everyone can see when you’re not there.
John McEnroe stepped in it yesterday, with his comments about Emma Raducanu. McEnroe is generally a pretty good commentator, though he suffers a bit from Charles Barkley Syndrome where he was much better a few years ago and now often skates by on his name and previous performances. When you’re as great a player as McEnroe was, it’s probably tricky not to relate everything back to your playing days.
“It’s a shame. I feel bad for Emma. It appears like it just got too much, which is understandable,” he said.
“It makes you look at the guys and girls who have been around for so long and wonder how they handle it. Hopefully she will learn from this experience.
“Maybe it’s not a shame this has happened right now when she is 18. I played this tournament at 18 and in a way I was happy I lost.
“I was able to understand what it would take to make it. Allow her to take some deep breaths and maybe get some wildcards.”
Anyway, McEnroe’s comments definitely leaned a little too heavily into the “women are too emotional” category, which kind of ignored the fact that Raducanu is a child, and this sport has eaten up children before. The tour has taken some steps to keep kids from burning out on tour, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
Broadcasters should know better than to just wildly speculate about what is going on medically with an athlete unless it’s pretty obvious. Someone goes down clutching their knee, we can probably assume it’s a knee injury. With Raducanu it wasn’t that clear, and could have been a host of things, and McEnroe just wanted to say it was some sort of anxiety or stress-related condition.
McEnroe is hardly alone in not knowing how to talk about these kinds of things, if even that was Raducanu’s issue yesterday afternoon. The urge for McEnroe and a host of others is to treat this is a new thing, something from this generation that they don’t really understand. The only thing that’s new is that we know about it now. Back in McEnroe’s day, there were probably plenty of players dealing with various mental health issues with nowhere to turn to, no one to talk to, and likely didn’t even have the knowledge that it was something that existed or they could admit to. They just had to power through, even when they couldn’t, and we’ll never know how many careers were altered or derailed thanks to that in the decades that came before.
That’s how broadcasters are going to have to learn to talk about it now, and not treat it as some sort of weakness of the generations that came after them that they can sneer at. It only poisons the water around these players to do so, and that’s where no one wins. Especially when we’re talking about teenagers unexpectedly thrust onto the national stage, as Raducanu was in Britain, being the last Brit in either draw. We’ve come to a point where we recognize the enormity of this sort of thing, but still have some ways to go.