, the 23-time Olympic gold medalist, expressed his support for tennis
champion Naomi Osaka
, who recently withdrew from the French Open
due to depression
she has been suffering from since 2018.
Phelps, a decorated icon of US swimming, has been open about his own experiences with depression, which he claims began during the 2004 Olympics
, and he praised Osaka's candid statement explaining why she was withdrawing from the tournament in a new interview
“I felt very happy after reading her message because she’s showing that vulnerability,” Phelps said, adding, “she’s showing a side of herself that we haven’t seen before, and that’s so powerful.”
“It will undoubtedly be a game changer in mental health
going forward,” he added.
A number of athletes and public figures praised Osaka for being open about her mental health issues.
Phelps, a mental health advocate who executive-produced a documentary
on athletes' mental wellness in 2020, said he was "almost shocked" to hear of Osaka's backlash for refusing to participate in post-match press conferences, but he said the support she's receiving for discussing mental wellness is a win.
“That brings a smile to my face,” he said, “because yes, then we understand that this is something that, whether you're number one in the world or the average Joe, anyone can go through. It is real.”
Osaka revealed that she had been suffering from depression for years when she announced her withdrawal from the French Open.
“The truth is that I have been suffering from long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018, and I have had a really difficult time coping with that,” she said on Monday.
Osaka has four Grand Slam titles, including a first-place finish at the 2018 US Open. Prior to withdrawing from the French Open, Osaka stated that she would play but would not hold post-match press conferences, despite being contractually obligated to do so.
“I've often felt that people
have no regard for [athletes'] mental health, and this rings true whenever I see or participate in a press conference,” she wrote in a statement released last week on social media
“We're frequently sat there and asked questions that we've been asked multiple times or questions that cause us to doubt ourselves, and I'm simply not going to subject myself to people who doubt me.”
In response, top officials from the four tennis Grand Slam tournaments fined Osaka $15,000 and issued a statement warning her that she could be barred from future tournaments if she continues to miss contractually required press conferences.
“A core element of the Grand Slam regulations is the responsibility of the players to engage with the media, regardless of the outcome of their match, a responsibility which players accept for the benefit of the sport, the fans
, and themselves,” officials stated.
Before issuing the fine, French Open officials stated that they had asked Osaka to "reconsider her position and tried unsuccessfully to speak with her to check on her well-being, understand the specifics of her issue, and what might be done to address it on site."
Osaka stated in her withdrawal statement, "when the time is right, I really want to work
with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press, and fans."