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Op-ed | Put mental health of athletes ahead of public relations priorities

Naomi Osaka French Open
Naomi Osaka quit the French Open on Monday.
Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

Would French Open Officials fine Naomi Osaka if she had a physical injury rather than a mental health one?

Tennis rules allow for mid-match delays for physical injuries. Osaka’s delay was not even a mid-match delay but an after-match delay until the end of the tournament when Osaka said she would be happy to give extensive time to journalists.     

Her reasonable request did not inconvenience spectators or deny her opponents the chance to play against the world’s best woman tennis athlete. That result is unquestionably the fault of officials who either could not or would not understand or respect that mental disease is as important and real as physical disease.    

Mental health injuries or concerns must be acknowledged to the same extent as are physical injuries. Both can create great suffering and even result in death. Tournament officials must step up to the same standards being set by many major corporations and governments around the world and treat mental health issues as seriously as physical issues.    

Osaka is incredibly brave for facing up to her mental health needs and demanding that tournament officials set reasonable standards for players with mental health concerns and disease. 

Tournament officials fine players for bad court behavior; maybe the players association should fine tournament officials for their bad behavior in not treating this important health issue seriously.    

Shame on the French Open and other tournament officials for taking their public relations priorities more seriously than player health priorities. This was about money, not the values many athletes are taught to uphold and strive for and that inspire the rest of us in those rare moments when great Athletes like Naomi Osaka take the stage and show us what it means to be world class.  

On this occasion, Osaka has demonstrated world class courage, something French Open officials and all those who supported their actions would do well to emulate.   

Francis Greenburger is president and founder of the Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice.

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