Naomi Osaka still doesn’t owe any of us, including Megyn Kelly, anything

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There remains an unhealthy obsession some have with tennis star Naomi Osaka — mainly people on the right — that borders on absurd. The latest example comes from a former Fox host who once insisted that Santa Claus could only be white.

The lesson we should learn from Naomi Osaka going forward

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Remember that Osaka dropped out of the French Open, citing mental health issues triggered by participating in news conferences. It was a brave decision, and while mental health issues are intensely private and complex, she handled it all with remarkable class.

Since her decision, Osaka has appeared on a number of magazine covers, and this is where things start to get really weird. And cruel.

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It was initially two high-profile right-wingers who went after Osaka. First was Clay Travis, who suggested that because she appeared on the magazines, her mental health claims were fabricated. 

“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,” Travis tweeted.

“Let’s not forget the cover of (& interview in) Vogue Japan and Time Mag!” Megyn Kelly tweeted.

More: Naomi Osaka becomes first female Black athlete on a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover

More: Naomi Osaka got her own Barbie doll, and it’s already sold out

What made both of these tweets remarkable goes beyond their harshness. There was a purposefulness as well. It was to make Osaka look like a fraud. What’s incredible is that it’s highly likely, if not certain, both Travis and Kelly know that magazines have months-long advance times from the moment a cover photo is shot until publication. They know there’s a good chance the covers were conceived before Osaka took action before the French Open.

In fact, they would have to be incredibly stupid to not know this, and while those two are many things, they are not dumb, which means they potentially knowingly cantilevered a fake notion to their combined millions of followers. The same could be said for Piers Morgan.

This was exactly Osaka’s point in her since-deleted tweet responding to Kelly: “Seeing as you’re a journalist I would’ve assumed you would take the time to research what the lead times are for magazines, if you did that you would’ve found out I shot all of my covers last year. Instead your first reaction is to hop on here and spew negativity, do better Megyn.”



Naomi Osaka posing for the camera: Tennis star Naomi Osaka


© Michael Loccisano, Getty Images
Tennis star Naomi Osaka

At the core of all of this is control. It’s control mixed in with a number of other combustibles, like race, misogyny and expectations about how athletes are supposed to react.

There’s still a significant swath of people who do not like when athletes take control of their own lives. That criticism becomes even more strident if the athlete attempting to control their own life is a woman, and especially if it’s a woman of color.

It’s not a coincidence that the three highest-profile Osaka antagonist coagulants are white.

It’s also not a coincidence that many of Osaka’s biggest backers have been Black women. They know what’s up.

One of the things some people aren’t seeing, and perhaps refuse to, is that athletes like Osaka are the future. How they deal with the media, how they control their image, how they protect themselves, will look different to many of us. This … is a good thing.

We’ll all just have to adapt. If Osaka blows off a presser but decides to appear on the cover of Time instead, well, so what? As someone who has covered thousands of press conferences, they are among the more overrated features of sports journalism. Few of them are actually productive. I’m not a journalist advocating for less access. That would be silly. But I’ve learned that journalists have to adapt to 21st-century sports, where athletes sometimes push for more control of their images and lives.

At the end of this mess, Kelly shared a screenshot that Osaka had blocked her. Kelly made it seem like some sort of badge of honor, failing to see what it really was.

It was Osaka, again, smartly protecting herself.

Just as she should.

Naomi Osaka, a three-time Grand Slam winning tennis player, advanced to the finals of the 2021 Australian Open. Osaka said May 31, 2021, that she is withdrawing from the French Open following the bitter fall-out from her decision to boycott all media activity. Take a look at her life and career in pictures.

Naomi Osaka of Japan holds the winners trophy after defeating Caroline Garcia of France during the WTA Rising Stars Final at Singapore Sports Hub on October 25, 2015 in Singapore.

Naomi Osaka of Japan serves in the women’s single’s match against Jarmila Wolfe of Australia during day two of the 2016 Hobart International at the Domain Tennis Centre on January 11, 2016 in Hobart, Australia.

Naomi Osaka smiles as she visits Melbourne Aquarium during day three of the 2016 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 20, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.

Naomi Osaka of Japan in action against Coco Vandeweghe of the United States on day one of the 2016 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 29, 2016.

Naomi Osaka of Japan hits a shot to Madison Keys of the United States on day five of the 2016 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Sept. 2, 2016.

Naomi Osaka plays a shot against Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic during the Rogers Cup tennis tournament at Aviva Centre on Aug. 10, 2017.

Naomi Osaka shakes hands with Serena Williams after their match on day two of the Miami Open at Tennis Center at Crandon Park on March 21, 2018. Osaka won 6-3, 6-2.

Naomi Osaka in action during her match against Madison Keys (USA) on day six of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros on June 1, 2018 in Paris.

Naomi Osaka of Japan reaches for a forehand against Madison Keys of the United States in a women’s semi-final match on day eleven of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Sept. 6, 2018.

Naomi Osaka, Billy Jean King, and Serena Williams before the women’s final on day thirteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Sept. 8, 2018.

Naomi Osaka of Japan wins a point against Serena Williams of the USA in the women’s final on day thirteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Sept. 8, 2018.

Naomi Osaka of Japan (left) cries as Serena Williams of the USA comforts her after the crowd booed during the trophy ceremony following the womenÕs final on day thirteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Sept. 8, 2018.

Naomi Osaka poses with the championship trophy after defeating Serena Williams on day thirteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Sept. 8, 2018.

From left, Naomi Osaka of Japan, Novak Djokovic of Serbia, Serena Williams of the United States, and Roger Federer of Switzerland participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony on new stadium court at Hard Rock Stadium prior to play in the first round of the Miami Open at Miami Open Tennis Complex on March 20, 2019.

Naomi Osaka of Japan plays a backhand during her ladies singles second round match against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus during Day five of the 2019 French Open at Roland Garros on May 30, 2019 in Paris, France.

Naomi Osaka celebrates as she speaks with French former tennis player Fabrice Santoro, after winning against Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka during their women’s singles second round match on day five of The Roland Garros 2019 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on May 30, 2019.

Naomi Osaka throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the Los Angeles Dodgers play against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on July 24, 2019.

Naomi Osaka serves a ball during the Rogers Cup tennis tournament at Aviva Centre on August 8, 2019.

Naomi Osaka reacts after defeating Magda Linette of Poland in the second round on day four of the 2019 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 29, 2019.

Naomi Osaka walks onto the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium to face Coco Gauff of the United States in the third round on day six of the 2019 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 31, 2019.

Naomi Osaka looks on from the sidelines during the second quarter between the LA Clippers and Washington Wizards at Staples Center on Dec. 1, 2019.

Naomi Osaka of Japan prepares to walk onto the court wearing a mask with the name of Ahmaud Arbery prior to her match on day five of the 2020 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Sept. 4, 2020. Osaka became known for her masks honoring victims of police brutality in the US.

Naomi Osaka of Japan serves on day five of the 2020 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Sept. 4, 2020.

Naomi Osaka of Japan celebrates winning the women’s singles final match on day 13 of the 2020 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Sept. 12, 2020.

Japan’s Naomi Osaka signs autographs for fans after beating Serena Williams of the US in their women’s singles semi-final match on day eleven of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 18, 2021.

This hand out photo released by the Tennis Australia on February 20, 2021 shows Japan’s Naomi Osaka celebrates with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup trophy after her women’s singles final match against Jennifer Brady of the US on day thirteen of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.

Naomi Osaka of Japan waves while walking onto the court prior to her match against Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia (not pictured) in the second round in the Miami Open on March 26, 2021

Naomi Osaka of Japan returns a shot during her singles second round match against Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia on Day 5 of the 2021 Miami Open on March 26, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Japan’s Naomi Osaka celebrates after defeating Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig during their first round match of the French open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Sunday, May 30, 2021 in Paris.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Opinion: Naomi Osaka still doesn’t owe any of us, including Megyn Kelly, anything

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