John McEnroe credits Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles for starting a conversation around mental health, says he hid his own "vulnerabilities" growing up

Naomi Osaka at the 2021 US Open.
Naomi Osaka at the 2021 US Open.

In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, American great John McEnroe credited Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles for starting a conversation around mental health in sports.

Prior to the start of this year's Roland Garros, Osaka announced that she would be skipping her media responsibilities during the tournament to safeguard her mental health. She later withdrew from the event after her first-round win, citing mental health reasons.

Her decision sparked a huge conversation regarding the mental health of athletes, one that wasn't limited to just the tennis community. During this year's Tokyo Olympics, American gymnast Simone Biles said Osaka's decision to stop playing in order to safeguard her mental wellbeing was one of the reasons she was able to withdraw from a number of events as well.

Speaking to WSJ, John McEnroe acknowledged that the daily pressures of life, along with the ongoing pandemic, can make things difficult for anyone.

"We’re hearing more and more about mental health from Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka," McEnroe said. "This pandemic, this unheard-of event, once in 100 years…and we just went through the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This stuff can be overwhelming in addition to just trying to live the best you can. The fact that we’re discussing mental health more is key."

The American, who was famous for his temper and frequent outbursts on court, also admitted that he often chose to hide behind his anger rather than showcase his vulnerability to the world.

According to McEnroe, he was keen to conform to the traditional stereotype of men being tough and not displaying their emotions. However, the American is glad that tradition is slowly changing.

"I think I hid behind my own at times, where I’d express anger as opposed to vulnerability, because guys growing up weren’t supposed to cry," he said. "That’s changing, which is healthy, but it’s a process. I’m here at my tennis academy, nurturing and helping the kids through times where it can be overwhelming. Keeping that perspective is the key thing."

When will Naomi Osaka return to the tour?

Naomi Osaka at the 2021 French Open.
Naomi Osaka at the 2021 French Open.

Naomi Osaka is currently on a hiatus from the game. She has not played since her third-round exit from the 2021 US Open. However, the Japanese did reveal in a recent interview that she'll probably play again soon.

"For sure I love the sport," Naomi Osaka said. "I know I'm gonna play again, probably soon because I kind of have that itch again. But it wouldn’t really matter to me if I won or lost. I'd just have the joy of being back on the court. Just to, like, you know, that I’m doing it for myself."

Her extended absence from the game has resulted in her dropping out of the top ten of the rankings and her slide could continue if she does not return to action soon.

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Edited by Arvind Sriram
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