Lewis Hamilton encourages Naomi Osaka

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NYT > Sports

Tennis player Naomi Osaka can add Lewis Hamilton, the Formula 1 champion, to her list of supporters.

Osaka pulled out of the French Open on Monday after a dispute with tournament organizers over their participation in post-game press conferences. She was fined $ 15,000.

She said ahead of the tournament that she would not speak to journalists and cited concerns about her mental health. She wrote on Instagram that she has been suffering from depression since 2018.

Hamilton, who is on the hunt for an eighth Formula 1 record this year, has given Osaka courage.

“For her own personal health, she didn’t feel comfortable doing anything and the backlash is ridiculous,” said Hamilton on Thursday from Azerbaijan as he was preparing for the Grand Prix there on Sunday.

“People don’t take into account that she is human and she says, ‘I’m not doing well enough right now.’ I think that really needs to be looked into, how people reacted to it, and they should support and uplift them. “

As a black man in a white-dominated sport, Hamilton has been in the limelight since he became the youngest driver to win the UK Cadet Kart Championship at age 10.

In 2007, at the age of 22, a year younger than Osaka, he started with McLaren in Formula 1. He found it difficult to deal with media obligations.

“When you’re young and in the spotlight, it weighs heavily and most of us aren’t prepared,” said Hamilton, now at Mercedes, who is in the rare position of finishing second in the drivers’ standings, 4 points behind Max Verstappen from Red Bull.

“I remember when I got into Formula 1 and the team had PR. But I was never prepared to be thrown in front of the camera, never been instructed on what to look for or helped me navigate through it. It was incredibly nerve-wracking. “

McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo said it was important to respect everyone’s space.

“I think in general the media just needs to be careful sometimes – I don’t think they are now – but how they write things,” he said. “People can be very sensitive and feelings are real.”

Hamilton said he applauded Osaka for their “incredible courage” to take a stand.

“It now makes those in power think about how they’re reacting because I think the way they responded with the fine was not good,” said Hamilton. “Someone who talks about their personal mental health and is punished for it, that’s not cool.

“They definitely could have handled that better. I hope you dive deep and find a better way to steer the future. As athletes we go to our limits, we are on the edge and we are only human. “

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