‘Uncomfortable’ explanation for question that caused Naomi Osaka’s tears

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The reporter whose question prompted Naomi Osaka to break down in tears and step away from the podium ahead of the Cincinnati Open has spoken out.

In his most recent column, Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer detailed Monday’s exchange, which was the tennis star’s first WTA press conference since opening up about her struggles with mental health.

He started off by analyzing Osaka’s fame before diving into his since-viral interaction, in which he asked the 23-year-old how she balances her media obligations as a professional and her media-oriented interests that serve her platform.  

“Maybe she didn’t understand the question or maybe it made her uncomfortable,” he wrote. “In the Zoom format, there’s no room for discussion or nuance. I repeated the question twice.”

Daugherty then reiterated Osaka’s response to his question before adding that it was “Honest, thoughtful . . . and unlike any answer I’ve ever gotten in 34 years covering sports in Cincinnati.”

Osaka asked Daugherty to clarify his question several times (5:25 mark of video) before pointing out how she’s had so much media attention on her since she was younger, primarily due to her background. She then began to tear up, pulled her hat down over her face and ultimately had to step away from the podium to collect herself. Osaka eventually returned to finish the press conference.

Naomi Osaka at her pre-tournament conference in Cincinnati on Aug. 16, 2021.
Screengrab

While Osaka did not publicly condemn Daugherty’s question, her agent Stuart Duguid ripped the reporter.

“This insinuation that Naomi owes her off-court success to the media is a myth — don’t be so self-indulgent,” Duguid said in his statement to tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg. “The bully at the Cincinnati Enquirer is the epitome of why player / media relations are so fraught right now. Everyone on that Zoom will agree that his tone was all wrong and his sole purpose was to intimidate. Really appalling behavior.”

Naomi Osaka playing at the Olympics.
Naomi Osaka playing at the Olympics.
EPA

Osaka spoke with the media at the Tokyo Olympics, but otherwise had not spoken to the press since withdrawing from the French Open. Osaka did not play at Wimbledon.

The Enquirer defended Daugherty in a statement to USA Today.

“We appreciate the respectful dialogue with Ms. Osaka at the press conference,” the executive editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer, Beryl Love, said in a statement. “It was a straightforward question that we feel led to a meaningful exchange. That said, we sincerely regret that our questioning upset her in any way.”

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