Naomi Osaka

Osaka has shown her bravery in addressing her mental health, including the unflinching Netflix documentary (produced by LeBron James) that demonstrates her strength to be transparent about the challenges of anxiety and depression. Pushed from a young age to become a tennis phenom, Osaka in 2021 finally reconciled with the toll that pursuing athletic greatness can take on mental health. When she dropped out of the French Open, she provided a reminder that the mental health of athletes is every bit as important as their physical health.
- Geoff Graser
Freelance writer and FanSided contributor

How this fandom is changing sports

Since Osaka exited the French Open, Simone Biles stepped aside during the Olympics, and Lane Johnson and Calvin Ridley have taken time off in the NFL. As important as these athletes addressing their mental health is for their return to their sports at full strength, it’s even more important that they’re helping a society so hell-bent on physical strength to recognize true toughness and reduce the stigma around anxiety and depression.

What emotion defined this fandom this year?

Relief. Anyone who sees Osaka’s Netflix documentary catches a glimpse of the rigor and pressure that comes as the cost of a culture rewarding athletes with millions. Perhaps when Osaka began attending protests after George Floyd’s death, she started seeing with a wider lens that allowed her the possibility of breaking free into a more well-rounded person capable of great health as well as tennis greatness.