Stop Stigmatizing Mental Health in Sports

Target: David Haggerty, President of the International Tennis Federation

Goal: Increase support for athletes who have overwhelming mental health concerns.

A young person with a history of depression and severe anxiety comes to higher-ups seeking help and some measure of relief from the enormous stress. Instead of offering this aid or even a kind, supportive word, the adults in the room instead bully and threaten. If this scenario unfolded in any American town, outrage would follow. Such an incident is not theoretical for one young tennis star, however. She chose her mental health over the intimidation, but in the absence of change too many other young people may be pushed to or over the edge.

Since her professional career began at a young age, Naomi Osaka has become one of tennis’ biggest draws. Like many other athletes who became superstars so young, with the championships and the fame have come crippling bouts of mental illness. When she recently requested that she not be forced in front of cameras immediately following matches, sport officials threatened fines, disqualifications, and other sanctions. Osaka accepted the fines and requested they be donated towards mental health charities. The French Tennis Federation, the organization responsible for the threats, later seemingly shamed Osaka further in a since-deleted tweet. She later withdrew from the tournament in which she was competing, citing mental health concerns.

This type of behavior from authorities further stigmatizes mental illness and discourages individuals suffering from these issues from seeking help. Sign the petition below to demand these greedy organizations perform a wellness check on their own standards and practices.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Mr. Haggerty,

Rather than continuing to threaten Naomi Osaka during her first “wellness check” and reminding her about violating the rules, perhaps Grand Slam officials should have devoted their time and energy to taking a closer look at those dictates and the impact they have on athletes. Then, maybe they would not have to hastily amend public statements in the wake of losing one of their biggest stars. This time, please mean it when tennis’ governing bodies say, “mental health is a very challenging issue, which deserves our utmost attention.”

This newfound empathy and understanding is encouraging, but please do not let the words ring hollow. This sport once took measures to shield and safeguard its youngest and most vulnerable players from the pressures they faced. Rediscover this drive and engage with these athletes on a more fundamental level. Ask for their input regarding detrimental customs like the 30-minute press requirement. Commit to enacting the changes needed.

Truly see and treat these people less like commodities and more like human beings.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Cottonbro

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One Comment

  1. Thank you for sharing this story with us. In fact, this is terrible. When I read such articles, I just realize that we have long forgotten that in addition to money and contracts, we should still have honor and kindness from each other. This is especially true of such situations when it was not necessary to put pressure on a person because nothing critical happened. Although I may not understand something, the tennis player herself acted with dignity and did not betray herself, for which she should be respected even more. I often meet situations in which they try to stigmatize not only physical but also mental problems and this is simply unacceptable.

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