Letters & Opinion

No racket intended, Naomi Osaka played her balls very well at the French Open!

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

I always acknowledge women who demonstrate the testicular fortitude that too-many only (mistakenly) associate with men.

The last time, I’d referred to ‘Women with Balls’ I was told it ‘would have been more decent’ if I referred to them as ‘Women of Substance’.

I agreed to disagree…

Yes, Women of Substance should be so described, but my references here are to women of exceptional substance, whose actions or statements have gone those extra miles to draw attention to issues needing it.

Like what Naomi Osaka just did in France…

The young Japanese — already rated Number Two in the World with just two Wimbledon titles under her belt – had indicated, before arriving, that she would not be talking to the press, for reasons having to do with media insensitivity to athletes’ ‘mental health’.

She didn’t go into details, but, as indicated, Osaka didn’t attend the post-match press conference after her first win – for which she was sharply criticized and heavily punished by tournament officials who claimed she had somehow disregarded ‘her obligations to the press’ and fined her US $15,000.

Osaka responded with two back-hand plays: first a brief return spin on Twitter with (words to the effect): ‘Change angers people, but angry responses don’t solve problems…’ — and then the all-out return smash: pulling-out completely from the tournament.

The French sporting authorities gave a childish response to the young and quiet Black, Brown and Asian star, concentrating on putting media ‘rights’ ahead of their equal ‘responsibilities’ by insisting on the press always having unrestricted access to all athletes and ignoring her right to protect her health.

In this case, Naomi’s quiet request to respect her right to preserve her mental health from a press that never gives a hoot, a hoof or a foot about athletes’ health saw the French tournament organizers responding like she was a troublesome child who needed reminding she was ‘not bigger than the sport.’.

It’s an insensitivity Naomi had been long suffering from, indicating she’d had ‘long bouts of depression’ since winning the US Open in 2018.

Osaka in 2019 wore the names of Black victims of US police violence on her sleeve while playing, bringing their cause to world attention from the court – a move that didn’t go down well with White America, the US sporting authorities or the organizers of other international tournaments, who frowned on what they considered a ‘political’ stance.

And then she went on to beat America’s tennis Queen Serena Williams…

But Osaka wasn’t being political or standing-up for justice and what’s right — as did the Black American athlete at the 1936 Olympics in Germany, or America’s tennis icons Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe in their time, or Colin Kaepernick, the American footballer who knelt on neck of the US National Anthem to draw America’ attention to the plight of Black players.

Instead, she was quietly begging, pleading with the authorities and the press to understand that mental health issues also affect famous, successful and rich people, including incredible athletes.

Similar appeals were also made – several times in her time – by Britain’s Princess Diana, who was hogged by the European and American press to such an extent that she hid behind umbrellas and tennis rackets to avoid the unavoidable hordes hounding her every time she went anywhere.

Diana had to invent ways to leave Buckingham Palace and even to talk to selected reporters, eventually being driven to her death in a tunnel as her driver tried to avoid the paparazzi in a high-speed chase.

Diana’s sons Harry and William grew-up witnessing the effects of their mother’s stormy relationship with their dad, Prince Charles; and Harry just-the-other-day said in the US that he and his wife Meghan have sworn to protect their children from growing in their grandparents’ sorry shadows.

As one who writes intensely and intensively, I know the mental pressures that can come with the job, which I have always treated as an occupational hazard, opting to preserve my sanity by choosing what to do and what not to – including what and who to read, watch and listen to and choosing time every day to do something that keeps me happy.

And avoiding Facebook…

I know what Osaka’s been facing, which is why I chose to refer to her ‘testicular fortitude’ – a choice of words I (sometimes) have to willingly explain, from the standpoint that I’m not at all here referring to a woman having testicles, but to someone – man, woman or child – who exhibits tenacity, strength and defiance, way beyond normal boundaries.

So, for the sake of the Doubting Thomases and Jittery Janices who may have a problem with my troublesome choice of words, I sought some ‘Definitions of Testicular Fortitude’ on the world-wide web (www).

I found out it was ‘a favorite expression of WWE’s Mick Foley in the late 1990s, when he was known to wrestling fans as Mankind. But even before Foley got hold of it, it had circulated for decades as a playful anatomical euphemism — for balls, stones, cojones, or what have you…’

The first definition was: ‘The ability to show strength, courage and sagacity in challenging situations…’

The second was: ‘A term to describe a person who is successful in their chosen field…’

And a third was: ‘That element of mental power that allows us to face-down our most significant challenges and win. Problems come, and problems go, and the level of testicular fortitude we bring to the fight will largely determine the outcome. Winning is not winning per se.’

I also looked-up ‘What is Lack of Testicular Fortitude? The answer: ‘Lack of testicular fortitude is a weakness, lack of resilience, and an over-reliance on others. And when the ones we rely on don’t swoop in to support us, we crumble. Some of us never recover. We become caught in an echo chamber of our self-pity.

So there…

Bravo Naomi!

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