As though Naomi Osaka couldn’t demonstrate any more grace in the face of aggressive trolls, she somehow did it again in the form of a simple block on social media.
Osaka has been very public about how anxious she feels about press conferences, and she withdrew from the French Open as the tournament was unwilling to compromise on the obligation. The fact that Osaka has continued in public life rather than take her racket home and stop making money, has been quite offensive to some on the right.
There are a lot of facets to this story, and the tradition of on-site press conferences was a very useful one, as women’s tennis fought for a share of the sports page, but you can’t take issue with this; Osaka’s description of the way it feels to her. It’s something you have to respect.
There is nothing about Osaka that makes it seem as though she is manipulating fans by discussing her mental health, nor trying to get one over on a tennis tournament. She put her money on her convictions, and took herself out of the running for a Grand Slam title.
Mental health is something that has been immensely important at this particular moment in the national conversation. There are plenty of people who can relate. We have had our lives disrupted by the coronavirus, moved out of classrooms and into digital Zoom boxes. Isolated and denied long-planned graduations, new jobs, travel, weddings, and birthday celebrations. It takes a toll. That Osaka talked about her own internal life, it might allow many of us to talk about our own.
So to the block. We wouldn’t even have known about it if it weren’t for the blockee, an exiled Fox News broadcaster named Megyn Kelly, best known for getting worked up over the suggestion that Jesus or Santa might be Black. Kelly was harrumphing about Osaka’s presence on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition, and on other magazines, given Osaka’s discussion of mental health. Osaka responded that the covers were shot before the French Open, then told Kelly to “do better” in a now-deleted tweet.
Lo, the rage.
“Poor @naomiosaka blocked me while taking a shot at me (guess she’s only tough on the courts). She is apparently arguing that she shot her many covers b/4 publicly claiming she was too socially anxious to deal w/press. Truth is she just doesn’t like Qs she can’t control. Admit it.”
Kelly once claimed to be a journalist, but that tweet shows she has become just another bully. The mocking use of “poor” as an adjective, suggesting she isn’t “tough,” and refusing to believe Osaka’s description of how she experiences anxiety. Kelly even rejects a factual timeline that disproves her assumptions, something a journalist doesn’t do.
Middle-school bully Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons might have said something similar to Bart in the schoolyard. Kelly blithely perpetuates the stigma that would keep players like Osaka from ever speaking out, and with 2.4 million followers, alerts them that they might be able to reach Osaka where Kelly can’t.
It is odd that Kelly can see clearly how sexual harassment disadvantages women in the workplace and how power dynamics lead women to be quiet about it, and have absolutely no idea how these same dynamics are in play when it comes to race and expressions of vulnerability.
Later on Twitter, Piers Morgan hilariously chimed in to decry that he too had been blocked by Osaka, and now I need a copy of Naomi Osaka’s block list because it’s practically a best-practices manual.
Morgan has taken issue with any number of successful young Black women, like Osaka and the Duchess of Sussex Megan Markle, who share something in common with the other woman who was the subject of Kelly’s trolling yesterday — journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who edited and won a Pulitzer for the New York Times’ 1619 Project.
All three are women of color, which I’m sure Morgan and Kelly would insist has nothing to do with their targeting. You know who has noticed a connection? The fearless Undefeated writer Soraya McDonald. She makes a pointed comment about the way Black people are targeted on social media, and the way they have been monitored in earlier eras.
“Don’t people like Megyn Kelly ever have their own business to mind instead of constantly being on Negro Patrol.”
Please note that this is one in a long list of race-related issues chronicled in this Media Matters look into Kelly’s career. And keep in mind that Kelly’s brief tenure at NBC ended when she defended the idea of white people in blackface.
Osaka doesn’t owe Kelly a thing. And the critics don’t get to put Osaka in a penalty box for discussing anxiety, or play gotcha with their meager understanding of mental health issues. She gets to choose how she engages, how she makes money, what tournaments she plays. I sincerely hope accommodations are made that make Osaka comfortable enough to give press conferences to the tennis media, but that’s another column.
At any rate, Kelly has given Osaka another reason to avoid public interactions and media settings. And that’s a shame, because this isn’t an actual topic that will illuminate anything other than one high-profile ax-grinder’s ability to force themselves into the public conversation.
That block is looking better and better.