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When Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open earlier this week due to mental health concerns, she took one last shot at the organizers over the $15,000 fine she received for refusing to speak with reporters: “I hope the considerable amount that I get fined for this will go towards a mental health charity,” she wrote on Twitter.
While that ball lies in the court of the International Tennis Federation, meditation app Calm has stepped in to grant Osaka’s request. The company stated that it will make a $15,000 donation in Osaka’s name to Laureus Sport for Good, a charitable foundation that supports sport development programs, advocacy for mental well-being, social equality, inclusive spaces, and research in the sport for development sector.
But Calm is also going a step further, promising to cover any fines accrued by tennis players participating in the Grand Slam who also decline to speak with reporters over mental health concerns. Plus, for every fine paid, Calm will donate an additional $15,000 to Laureus Sport for Good, demonstrating that professional athletes shouldn’t be punished for prioritizing their mental health and well-being.
But this is bigger than any individual player.
Calm will also pay the fine for players opting out of 2021 Grand Slam media appearances for mental health reasons, and we will match the fine with a $15,000 donation to @LaureusSport.#MentalHealthIsHealth 🧠
— Calm (@calm) June 2, 2021
What does this mean for professional athletes?
Osaka has been open about her mental health struggles, sharing that she’s suffered from long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018 and experiences anxiety before speaking with reporters after matches. Being a professional athlete comes with a multitude of pressures, and players such as the NBA’s Kevin Love and the NFL’s DJ Townsel have been vocal advocates of mental health and the benefits of yoga for recovering from mind and body stressors.
The narrative is hopefully beginning to shift, as players across various sports are being encouraged to do what’s best for themselves instead of succumbing to media storms and the expectation to perform at their peaks at any given time. But, as was evident this week in Paris, we still have a long way to go.
While Calm shouldn’t have to step in to cover the fines of those seeking to make space for themselves, we hope this move opens the door for more athletes—and the institutions that profit from their successes—to take mental health concerns seriously.