Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles have been dominating headlines for being two of the fiercest competitors in sports. As a proven force to be reckoned with, both of their talents and skills are unquestioned. Not only do they serve as representation for the black and brown community, but they constantly speak about the importance of uplifting others and advocate for mental health.
Most recently, Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from a few speaking engagements like the French Open, which cost her the ability to participate. When she cited mental health concerns as a reason for not participating in these interviews, she was faced with backlash. Some say she was not prepared to answer the tough questions that come up in these interviews, while others say she had an elevated sense of entitlement. Furthermore, after she shared her Sports Illustrated photoshoot online, one journalist, in particular, stated, “Since saying she’s too introverted to talk to the media after tennis matches, Naomi Osaka has launched a reality show, a Barbie, and now is on the cover of the SI swimsuit issue”. Naomi refuted this by replying to the journalist and informing her that this shoot took place months ago and urged her to “do better” when speaking about other’s mental health.
Simone Biles, who recently withdrew from the Olympic Games, was also faced with backlash from those who thought she was not being “a team-player” Even after disclosing the immense pressure she was facing and how one wrong move could end her professional career, some were unrelenting when it came to the judgement they gave her.
But the real question here is why do these women have to justify their actions and reasoning when it comes to their own mental health?
We see this every day, in our personal lives, in the workplace, and it is not only unfair but unhealthy. Establishing boundaries is already a difficult task, but when we have to justify those boundaries and every action afterward, it takes a toll on us. For instance, if you feel burnt out at work and cannot stay later, and instead choose to spend that time with your children, is it not unfair of your job to ask why you have energy for your kids but not your job? The boundaries we put in place for ourselves are done because we know our limitations and what is best for us. The constant stigmatization of those who choose to enforce boundaries for the sake of their mental health is unfair. So what do we do in these situations?
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
It’s hard to have a definitive answer for this. Sometimes we may feel compelled to justify every decision to those around us, but it is also ok to take a step back and remove ourselves from situations that no longer serve us. If this means disengaging in a conversation (similar to Naomi, who blocked this reporter after responding to her), or if it means trying to educate others on why stigmas surrounding mental health and advocating for others to rally in support of speaking up on these issues, it is important that we do it in a way that does not drain and deprive us of our happiness and sanity.
It’s important that we also learn to grant grace to ourselves and others, lead with compassion and empathy, and give ourselves a break!