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  • Writer's picturePorsha Williams Gates

“Naomi Osaka: A GOAT in the Making”

Updated: Nov 5, 2022

On May 31st, 2021, news broke that international tennis sensation Naomi Osaka quit the French Open before it even began. According to reports, i.e., social media, the French Open wanted Osaka to appear before the press and to speak at a press conference pre-match. Naomi graciously decided that she would prioritize her mental health and that this opportunity would be a hard pass. What most people watching tennis or glancing at magazine covers may not realize is that Naomi is introverted. Sis does not like the spotlight and prefers to play her tennis and keep it pushing. We have seen Naomi on multiple occasions, clam up before the cameras, displaying her coy nature. One time on the Ellen DeGeneres show, I distinctly recall Naomi being mortified of the idea that Ellen would dare call up sexy celebrity Micheal B. Jordan. MBJ is a sex god, and we are all jealous of Lori Harvey, but that conversation is another day. Ellen joked with Naomi that she would call up Micheal to tell him that Naomi has a crush on him. Naomi practically panicked at the thought and in that moment, I grieved for her as Ellen embarrassed her on national television.

We have also witnessed Naomi shrink at the mic and apologize for her winnings as if she didn’t deserve to win. Remember back in 2018 when she cried after beating the GOAT, THE Serena Grand Slamming Williams, best friend to the Dutchess, twerking in a Beyonce video. Naomi cried and repeatedly apologized for winning a match she earned.

Naomi has shown us on several occasions that she has social anxiety and is not at her best when she is asked to speak publicly. She’s not a brat or a diva. She is literally terrified, and it takes a toll on her mental state of being.

At what point do we start to take Black Women's mental health seriously? Now, I know that May is over, but that does not mean that the conversation is over. Mental health is not a linear conversation, and it must be handled with care.

And so this year at the French Open, as the highest-paid female athlete in the world, Naomi checked her bank statements and told the French Open that she would pay the fine because she does not have the time or the mental capacity to move forward with the press conference. The French Open once again decided that they would threaten her with another fine if she did not participate in the mandated press conference per her contract. With that, Namoi chose to withdraw from the tournament, making the statement that no coin is ever worth her mental health.

Basically, sis said: forget a paycheck.

But no literally. Forget a paycheck. How’s that for a pay check?

To heck with every dollar, cent, coin, pound, or other forms of currency when the price we pay is too high for our mental health and wellbeing. Black women deserve way more than what we are offered when it comes to the work we put in and the coins that we meet at the end of the shift. Naomi is the highest-paid female athlete globally, with tournament championship checks, endorsements, and other engagements that pay her well. Her primary focus is on the game, not the performative moments of press conferences. She is literally there to work on her craft and to do what she loves. What we witnessed this weekend is a woman who has chosen her wellbeing. Some would call it brave. Some would call it courage. I call it faithful. Faithful to self, first. I admire how Naomi advocated for herself and was not afraid of turning down the bag.

But how many of us are willing to do the same thing? How many of us are willing to have the courage to walk away from the establishment and choose our mental health and wellbeing? Making a choice to pay the fine instead of giving more of ourselves than we have to give is a radical move in itself. The world has painted Black Women out to be desperate for every dollar that comes our way, and the truth be told, that is not who we are. Black women tend to find themselves overworked and underpaid. Still, we always rise to the occasion and give our best selves. Sometimes that best self shows up in the form of a no. We need to provide more nos and walk away from the things that don’t serve us more often.

But I also wonder about the women who do not have the luxury of being able to walk away from a job that no longer serves us. Some women need every last penny in the paycheck and do not have the support system or the resources to fill the gap. The power of being able to walk away from coins is another level of privilege that I wish every Black woman would be able to have. I’ve done it, but I also have no children and a husband (whom I commonly refer to as “The Spouse”) who can pay for the basics in times of unemployment. I also have parents, whom we live with, that have vowed to provide shelter when times are down. As I write this, I am well over a year since my last consistent paycheck. I, too, decided that no amount of money was going to cover my mental wellbeing. At the same time, I can also acknowledge that this quitting requires planning and support, and this is not always the reality for every person.

Where can a sister go to receive a little help? Where can Black women who are sick and tired of the corporate, retail, restaurant, customer service, health care foolishness find assistance? Fuck a paycheck, yes, but where are the resources on the other side of that?

I dream of a world where Black Women can lean into our agency without the white patriarchal gaze pressing us to feel grateful for the stage as if we didn't earn our keep. We have earned the right to our no, not just because our ancestors built this world, but because we are human beings and should be treated as such.

I’m glad that Naomi was in the position to choose herself over the institution that tried to dictate what she was going to do with her body. Her initials N O literally spell NO. It's a no for her. She certainly was not going to perform just because some white man said that she needed to. That’s the real lesson in all of this. The thing that we can all take from watching Naomi is this: choose yourself before all others.

The power to choose ourselves is truly the greatest gift that we could ever give ourselves. When we choose ourselves, we choose to choose the divine within us. The divine dwells inside us, and every time we say yes to ourselves, we say yes to the divine. So I pray that we can all get to a place where we choose ourselves.

The power to choose ourselves stems from the place where we love ourselves. And so I ask you: how are you choosing to show up for yourself? Where can you resist and say no? Where can you say fuck a paycheck? It may simply be in small doses, but it is a dose worth having. After all, we are worth that and then some.

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