Should athletes be compelled to talk to the media?

The latest controversy involves Naomi Osaka being fined for not talking to reporters, and then dropping out of the French Open.

I’ve never understood why leagues and professional associations mandate media availibility for athletes and penalize them if they don’t participate. Does the benefit of media attention to the sport really justify overriding athletes’ rights to privacy and to not be abused in press conferences or be misquoted?

From a fan/general public standpoint, how many people are grievously disappointed if the usual dumbass comments aren’t generated on every occasion? There will always be attention-seekers to fill up the sports columns.

Well, the only way to monetize a sport besides gambling is to turn it into a form of entertainment. Ask any actor; indulging the press is part of the job.

It may be a sad reflection on our modern world, but sport is big business. And it’s only big business because it attracts fans and airtime, and hence sponsorship. Interviews maximise that air time and enhance the viewership of the sport, attracting more money from fans and sponsorship. It fills the column inches when there’s not much else to discuss.

If all athletes just stopped giving interviews, it’s going to have a detrimental effect on the profitability of the sport (and the athletes pay packets, lest we forget).

Now, that may be a sacrifice worth making for the mental health of the players. But it’s not a decision any sport is going to take lightly.

I’m a fan of Osaka and support her decision to withdraw.

There’s no compulsion involved. The tournament is clear on its conditions and requirements, and the athletes accept or don’t. It’s a financial loss for both parties. Osaka won’t collect any income and the tournament loses viewership. Maybe next time they’ll reach a different agreement.

I’m not a fan of the concept of compelling anyone to talk about anything, except for perhaps referees who should be required to explain incorrect calls, etc. If an athlete doesn’t want to talk, he’s just practicing common sense.

Yeah, this is a tough one. Osaka has a point–the media does not help the mental state of athletes. How many of us could handle constant public scrutiny, much of it negative? That said, without the media Osaka doesn’t make nearly as much money and her stance could possibly result in lower salaries for other athletes. There’s no easy answer.

Yes. The media and professional sports have a symbiotic relationship.

This is what I have a hard time understanding.

Are that many people going to stop watching or going to tennis tournaments because Naomi Osaka isn’t going to press conferences afterwards?

I doubt this makes much of a difference, income-wise. The NBA and NFL, for instance, are massive money-making juggernauts that draw in mammoth ratings and revenue. I doubt that LeBron James or Tom Brady not being available for a post-game interview is going to put much of a dent at all in the $$$.

To this question, yes, I think that having personalities and interviews make people more interested in the sport, and generate more revenue. People like and dislike athletes, and root for or root against athletes, and some of that will be based on personality, which would come through in an interview.

To your question in the OP, I don’t know.

This came up in the NFL, too, with Marshawn Lynch.

I guess athletes should be expected to interact with the media unless they request an exemption. That way, most athletes would just go ahead and talk to the media (some enjoy it, I’m sure) and the ones who find it painful wouldn’t have to.

Short-term, no. In this instance it might actually drive up ratings. But long-term, I think it will negatively effect earnings if it became commonplace. As RitterSport mentioned, people like to hear from the athletes.

I don’t follow tennis, and I had no idea who Naomi Osaka was when I first saw this story in the papers.

But, talking about professional sports in general, it seems to me that we’re talking about a massive entertainment business.

It’s usually in an actor’s contract that he or she must participate in press events, which are in fact promotional events.

I’m not sure why athletes should be treated differently than actors. I’m not sure that Ms. Osaka is subject to more public scrutiny than, say, Jennifer Lawrence, or why she should have a lesser obligation to participate in the marketing machine.

She also chooses, quite freely, to put herself out there in public by endorsing, and appearing in commercials for, various athletic clothing companies, and is spectacularly well-compensated for that. And appearing at press events and engaging with the press and the public is a big part of what makes her desirable, and thus worth massive amounts of money, to her sponsors. So, to some extent, the fact that she lives a very public life is her choice, and at the moment, she appears to be trying to have her cake and eat it too.

On the other hand, I’m not unsympathetic to the plight of a very young woman thrust into the public eye. Maybe she’s really an introvert who hates being in front of cameras and reporters.

Also, just checking Wikipedia to see who she is, it looks like she was raised by a father determined to re-create the success of the Williams sisters with his own daughters. Which is, if you ask me, not a healthy way to grow up. I certainly wouldn’t want it for my own daughters, even if they showed signs of athletic talent.

So I’m torn. It seems completely reasonable to expect incredibly highly-paid professional athletes to participate in the publicity engine that, in fact, drives their massive compensation. On the other hand, we throw people into that machine when they’re children (Ms. Osaka turned pro at 15).

To me this is a good role for the players’ unions. The players should decide collectively if they want to compel athletes to face the media. Then they can negotiate with the owners on how to implement the decision.

I don’t know, but I kind of think that’s part of their (highly paid) job. Professional sports is, after all, in the entertainment business.

Perhaps not. But somebody from the Buccaneers or the Lakers will be available. In the case of Ms. Osaka, she is the whole team. It’s like if an entire NBA franchise refused to participate in press events.

I guess the way I see it is that if you’ve signed up to play in a tournament, and part of signing up is an agreement that you talk to the media, give interviews, and so on, then the athlete is breaching that contract if they choose not to do so.

Which is entirely up to them, but they also must pay the penalty of not doing what they had agreed to do, be that for mental health reasons, or whatever.

Now if she chooses in the future to only compete in tournaments that don’t stipulate interviews, or negotiate no interviews, then that’s her business, and nobody can compel her to do interviews if she hasn’t agreed to it beforehand. Whether or not that’ll hurt her career, I don’t know.

My family makes a point to watch all of Osaka’s matches. We’ll still watch the tournament as our time allows, but probably not as much.

In general, I think not many people watch all the matches. The final and semis, sure; maybe the all quarter finals. But the first several rounds are very hit or miss in terms of viewers. I think those rounds are almost entirely fan-driven.

As to whether the player interview after the match makes a difference? For the overall views of the entire tournament, maybe not. But on the other hand, I only watch the interviews of players I like, and none of players I don’t. I’d guess the interviews are almost completely fan-driven.

I’m hoping the tournament(s) and player(s) can come to an agreement next time. Something like the player gives an interview, or the player and tournament make matching donations to an appropriate charity. They get their publicity and raise attention to a worthy cause without harming the player.

I would definitely think that there should be exceptions for athletes who are minors, by the way. I don’t think a 15-year-old athlete should be forced to have press conferences.

I’m not sure how they’d work the contracts for kids, since they can’t give legal consent for themselves.

Someone (parent or guardian) must be signing for the kids, because I’m sure you’re signing contracts when you enter tennis tournaments.