The withdrawal of female tennis star Naomi Osaka from the French Open because she wasn’t allowed to ignore rules all the other players were forced to play by has inspired a revealing amount of criticism…of the concept that stars should have to abide by the same rules and laws as everybody else. Since this is a massive ethics blind spot that defies persuasive advocacy, I’ve been somewhat surprised that so many commentators and athletes have been willing to put such an unethical position in print.
I shouldn’t have been, I guess. Osaka (predictably) played the victim, suddenly revealed that she suffered from depression (the old reliable “I’m not bad, I’m sick!” ploy satirized in “Officer Krupke”), and she had the triple benefit of being Asian, Black and female, the “Get Out Of Accountability Free” hat trick (that’s hockey, but you get the point) in the Age of The Great Stupid.
I was originally going to dedicate this post to the fatuous commentary of New York Times columnist Kurt Streeter, to whom all sports is about race, on l’affaire Osaka. “Using social media posts, first last Wednesday then on Monday, Osaka called out one of the most traditional practices in major sports: the obligatory news conference, vital to reporters seeking insight for their stories, but long regarded by many elite athletes as a plank walk. After monumental wins and difficult losses, Osaka has giggled and reflected through news conferences and also dissolved into tears. In Paris, she said she wanted nothing to do with the gatherings because they had exacted a steep emotional toll,” he wrote. “She sent a message with significant weight: The days of the Grand Slam tournaments and the huge media machine behind them holding all of the clout are done. In a predominantly white, ritual-bound sport, a smoothstroking young woman of Black and Asian descent, her confidence still evolving on and off the court, holds the power. Get used to it.”
Get used to what? Star athletes (and politicians, and other celebrities) thinking that if they are successful enough and popular enough, they get to break rules and get away with it? We’re used to that. But the point is that she doesn’t have the power. Tennis authorities fining her and threatening to kick her out of upcoming tournaments proved it. So she threw a tantrum, quit, took her ball and went home, and that’s admirable to Streeter, or anyone else? Well, but, you see, “it is impossible to know the depth of Osaka’s internal anguish” as “the rare champion of color in a tennis world dominated by fans, officials and a press corps that is overwhelmingly white.” Oh, gag me with a spoon. I’d be willing to suffer a lot of internal anguish in an enterprise I could make over 50 million dollars in a year, as Osaka has. Who wouldn’t?
Tennis made a mistake by letting Osaka play her “King’s Pass” card earlier, when she decided not to play one day at a tournament last summer to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. The tournament paused for a day, allowing Osaka to have her boycott without defaulting, something it would never have done for a run-of-the-mill player, or a white player protesting the death of a white perp. Streeter calls this juvenile and ignorant grandstanding by Osaka “one of the highlights of sports in 2020.” If that’s his level of critical thought, the Times should sack him now. Did she even know the facts in the Jacob Blake shooting—an accused rapist, breaking a restraining order against the women he allegedly raped, resisting arrest and struggling with an officer after she called police, armed with a knife and reaching into a car with the woman’s children in it? I doubt it.
Yet Streeter’s analysis looks positively Aristotelian compared to the head-exploding piece by Yahoo! sportswriter Shalise Manza Young, who argues for stars, or at least this star,to be given given special treatment, and to be able to break rules that everyone else must abide by. That’s signature significance for ethics duncery.
Here are my favorite bone-headed and ethically tone-deaf excerpts from an article teeming with them:
- “The French Open fined her $15,000 when she stayed true to her word and did not attend her first-round post-match availability, and also threatened to suspend her from future Grand Slams, citing the sport’s code of conduct.”
This is New York Times-level deceit and spin. The mean old French Open fined her because she was true to her word! No, she was fined because she defied the tournament’s rules that she had agreed to abide by.
- “After Osaka withdrew — and this is 100 percent true, though so hypocritical it reads like Onion-style satire — the president of the French Tennis Federation read a statement to media and left the room without taking any questions.”
Hilarious. And stupid. It’s not hypocritical at all. He’s not a tennis player, and there is no rule requiring him to take questions from reporters.
- “But their knee-jerk reaction to one of the game’s biggest stars, a young woman with such global appeal due to her Japanese-Haitian heritage and American upbringing that she’s entered into endorsement partnerships with several of the biggest brands on the planet, was to punish her and make it clear that she has to play by their rules or might not get to play at all.”
How dare they require a tennis competitor to abide by the rules when she’s a big star, female, mixed race and rich?
- “There are rules about media obligations, but the French Open and the sport in general need Osaka a lot more than she needs them.”
And there it is, the eternal logic used to excuse unambiguous misconduct by “kings” and stars in every culture, occupation and profession, rotting ethics in the process. Once a star knows this is their privilege, they become monsters.
- “It’s hard to believe there couldn’t have been some sort of accommodation made, maybe something as simple as Osaka providing written answers to a handful of submitted questions immediately after she played.”
Well, you get the idea, I hope. Young simply cannot grasp the basic concept of fairness, equity and equality that rules and laws have to apply equally to all, or the system/organization/culture/sport is corrupt, with no integrity.
Yet Yahoo! allowed her to spread her toxic theory to hundreds of thousands of readers, making an unknown proportion of them dumber and more ethically ignorant.