‘A Netflix show, a Barbie doll, and now Sports Illustrated’: Critics clash with Osaka over media flurry amid ‘mental health break’
Tennis sensation Naomi Osaka has clashed with online critics including journalist Megyn Kelly after being blasted for taking a break from sport for mental health reasons but still unveiling a host of high-profile media activities.
The former world number one withdrew from the French Open in May after boycotting obligatory press conferences while citing mental health issues.
Claiming that she "never wanted to be a distraction," Osaka revealed she had "suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018" and is often hit with "huge waves of anxiety" before speaking to journalists.
Later pulling out of Wimbledon too, Osaka has returned to the spotlight this week ahead of representing her birthland Japan in the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
First Haitian and Japanese woman on the cover 🇭🇹🇯🇵❤️ pic.twitter.com/SLcKNSrSkH— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) July 19, 2021
Osaka, 23, was unveiled on the front cover of Sports Illustrated's iconic Swimsuit Issue alongside transgender model Leyna Bloom and rapper Megan Thee Stallion.
The move follows the release of Osaka's very own Barbie doll as well as the launch of a Netflix docuseries billed as an "intimate series" which follows the four-time Grand Slam queen "as she explores her cultural roots and navigates her multifaceted identity as a tennis champ and rising leader."
Elsewhere, Osaka also appeared on the front cover of Vogue magazine in Japan and Hong Kong.
I first teamed up with @Barbie in 2019 and today we’re introducing the Barbie Role Model Naomi Osaka doll. I hope every child is reminded that they can be and do anything: https://t.co/GrPuW1WkMnFun fact : (the doll is wearing my outfit from the 2020 Australian Open lol) pic.twitter.com/DlL98lNfQj— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) July 12, 2021
Amid the flurry of media activity, some rushed to suggest the apparent contradiction or hypocrisy, given Osaka's supposed fear of the spotlight.
"Since saying she’s too introverted to talk to the media after tennis matches, Naomi Osaka has launched a [Netflix] reality show, a Barbie, and now is on the cover of the SI swimsuit issue," pointed out Outkick and Fox Bet presenter Clay Travis.
Since saying she’s too introverted to talk to the media after tennis matches, Naomi Osaka has launched a reality show, a Barbie, and now is on the cover of the SI swimsuit issue. https://t.co/7V2x1ofGJy— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) July 19, 2021
This caught the eye of political commentator and former talk show host Megyn Kelly, who retweeted the post to her near 2.5 million followers and added: "Let’s not forget the cover of (& interview in) Vogue Japan and Time Mag!"
Let’s not forget the cover of (& interview in) Vogue Japan and Time Mag! https://t.co/PAAUEwAVi0— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) July 19, 2021
Alerted to the criticism, Osaka defended her corner by quoting Kelly's remarks in a now-deleted tweet, replying: "Seeing as you’re a journalist I would’ve assumed you would take the time to research what the lead times are for magazines, if you did that you would’ve found out I shot all of my covers last year.
"Instead your first reaction is to hop on here and spew negativity, do better Megan [sic]," she demanded.
As Osaka's worshippers gushed "get her", told the "queen" she had dropped her crown, and said she had taken out "the trash" with her response, arguably the staunchest of the four-time Grand Slam winner's critics was just around the corner.
"ANOTHER magazine cover for brave inspiring Naomi!" mocked Piers Morgan.
"No wonder she had no time for beastly media press conferences!" he added, alongside a crying-with-laughter emoji.
Kelly later tweeted that she had been blocked by Osaka.
"Poor Naomi Osaka blocked me while taking a shot at me (guess she’s only tough on the courts). She is apparently arguing that she shot her many covers b/4 publicly claiming she was too socially anxious to deal w/press. Truth is she just doesn’t like Qs she can’t control. Admit it," wrote the former Fox News anchor.
Poor @naomiosaka blocked me while taking a shot at me (guess she’s only tough on the courts). She is apparently arguing that she shot her many covers b/4 publicly claiming she was too socially anxious to deal w/press. Truth is she just doesn’t like Qs she can’t control. Admit it. pic.twitter.com/izyRzOrUVm— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) July 19, 2021