After shaking the sports
world in recent weeks, Naomi Osaka
first ESPY Awards one to remember.
The four-time Grand Slam
champion attended the show on Saturday night in New York City
, her first public appearance since withdrawing from the French Open
due to mental health
concerns. She received the award for Best Athlete, Women
superstar Serena Williams
arrived on the red carpet
in a bold black
and white striped top and a green
Louis Vuitton skirt, accompanied by rapper boyfriend
Cordae at the show, which honors the year's top athletes and sports moments.
Osaka, who has been open about her depression
and social anxiety, overcame her nerves to deliver a short but sweet acceptance speech later in the evening.
“I just really don’t want to say a long speech because I’m a little nervous... I know this year has been really, it hasn’t even finished, but it’s been really tough for a lot of us,” she said on stage from The Rooftop at Pier 17. “For me, I just want to say, I really love you guys and this is my first ESPYS
so it’s really cool to be surrounded by all these incredible athletes. I think all of you guys ar
Osaka has largely stayed off the court and out of the public eye in recent weeks, revealing that she has suffered from "long bouts of depression" since the U.S. Open in 2018 and has had "a really hard time coping with that."
After being fined $15,000 and threatened with suspension for refusing to participate in press for the event, the 23-year-old withdrew from Wimbledon and the French Open.
A number of public figures and fellow athletes praised Osaka for prioritizing her mental health over trophies and for setting a powerful example of self-care.
The ceremony's host, Anthony Mackie
of "Falcon and the Winter Soldier," publicly chastised tennis officials for unfairly punishing Osaka at the start of the ceremony.
“That’s crazy. I’m no tennis executive, I don’t know, but if my sport had one of the most popular and marketable athletes on the planet, you know what I would do? I would probably make sure she felt comfortable and respected,” he said. “But hey, what do I know? I’m just Captain America
,” he added.
Osaka's appearance at the award show followed a powerful essay she wrote for Time magazine in which she elaborated on her decision to temporarily leave the game.
“Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media
scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subjected to strict sanctions
; in any other line of work
, you would be forgiven for taking a personal day here and there, as long as it is not habitual,” she wrote candidly.
“In my case, I felt enormous pressure to disclose my symptoms — largely because the press and tournament did not believe me.”
The tennis champion, on the other hand, expressed excitement about returning to the court for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics
, writing that she “could not be more excited to play” in the games after taking the “time to reflect, but also to look forward.”