Lewis Hamilton renewed his support for tennis star Naomi Osaka, saying that French Open organisers should have been more supportive of the Japanese player’s mental plight.
Osaka was fined by $15,000 at Roland Garros for pulling out of her post-match media duties last weekend, a decision the 23-year-old had announced beforehand when she explained that she felt mentally vulnerable to the media’s treatment of players during press conferences.
However, after the fine was levied upon her, Osaka withdrew altogether from the Grand Slam tournament, stating that she felt the need to “take some time away from the court”.
Hamilton posted a supportive message on Instagram, saying that “mental health is no joke”. In Baku on Thursday, the seven-time world champion elaborated on his feelings regarding Osaka’s situation and how the world of sport needs to be more supportive of young athletes’ difficulties in dealing with the media.
“It can be daunting still, standing behind a camera – it’s not the easiest,” Hamilton said. “Particularly if you’re like an introvert and you do struggle to be under those sorts of pressures.
“Some people are less comfortable with it than others. I’ve learned over my time here how, or have been continuing and I’m trying to continue to learn of how I engage.
“But, when I was young, I was thrown into the pit and I wasn’t given any guidance or support. And what I do know is that when youngsters are coming in, they’re facing the same thing as I did.
“And I don’t necessarily know if that’s the best for them. I think we need to be supporting more and I think it shouldn’t be a case where you’re pressured.”
Hamilton qualified the backlash against Osaka as “ridiculous”.
“Like, there are scenarios where – for example, with Naomi’s scenario, she didn’t feel comfortable for her own personal health not to do something.
“And the backlash is ridiculous and people not taking into account that she’s a human being.
“She’s saying ‘I’m not well enough to do this right now’. I think that really needs to be looked into and how people react to that. And rather be supportive and uplifting to her.
“Because I think… I don’t want to say anymore.”
Earlier in the press conference, Hamilton was asked if sports stars should perhaps resort to the help of a sports psychologist to deal with their vulnerabilities or anxieties.
“I don’t think I am the right person to say if it is the right thing to do – to seek help, necessarily,” Hamilton replied.
“I have never really been into sports psychology, but I definitely think it is an interesting topic.
“I wouldn’t say that I have advice for her, I think she is an incredible athlete and human being.
“Her activism has been so impactful and at such a young age, with so much weight on her shoulders, it is inevitable.
“That fact is, when you are young you are thrown into the limelight and it weighs heavily on you. The thing is, most of us are probably not prepared.
“I remember when I got to Formula 1 and the team had PR but I was never prepared for being thrown in front of the camera and I was never guided as to what to look out for or what would help to navigate through it,” added the Briton.
“You just learn through mistakes and it is incredibly nerve-wracking especially when you have all good intentions and people take advantage of it.
“So, I think she is incredibly brave and I applaud her for her bravery as I think it is now [about] asking those in power and putting them in question and making them have to think about how they react.
“Because the way they reacted was not good – with the fine. And someone talking about their personal mental health and then being fined for it isn’t cool.
“They could have definitely handled it better and I hope they take a deep dive into it and find a better way to navigate it in the future.
“As athletes we are pushing ourselves and we are on the edge, and we are only human beings.”
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