ESPN commentator Stephen A Smith on Tuesday defended a columnist who was accused of bullying Naomi Osaka after he brought her to tears at a press conference 

A top ESPN commentator has defended a columnist who was accused of bullying Naomi Osaka after he brought her to tears at a press conference by asking about her months-long media blackout. 

Osaka addressed the media on Monday for the first time since she made the controversial decision not to speak to reporters following her withdrawal from the French Open in May after she was hit with fines for skipping mandatory post-match media briefings.  

The press conference went off the rails when the tennis pro began to sob after Cincinnati Enquirer sports columnist Paul Daugherty asked about how she has benefitted greatly from media attention, while avoiding speaking to reporters.

Osaka’s agent, Stuart Duguid, later released a statement branding Daugherty a ‘bully’ and accusing him of ‘really appalling behavior’. 

ESPN’s Stephen A Smith came to Daugherty’s defense on his show First Take on Tuesday.  

‘Based off of that press conference, I thought the reporter was incredibly fair and incredibly delicate with how he asked the question,’ Smith said. ‘Then, the moderator said, “Would you like to move on?” And Naomi Osaka said no.

‘I’m trying to figure out what the reporter did wrong. I didn’t see that. And for the agent to come out with a statement basically accusing the journalist of bullying her, I’m like what? What are you talking about?

‘If you are a journalist and that is what we classify as bullying, then as a journalist you get to go up there and the only thing you can say is, “What would you like to talk about?” to anybody.’ 

Osaka addressed the media on Monday (pictured) for the first time since she made the controversial decision not to speak to reporters following her withdrawal from the French Open in May after she was hit with fines for skipping mandatory post-match media briefings

Osaka addressed the media on Monday (pictured) for the first time since she made the controversial decision not to speak to reporters following her withdrawal from the French Open in May after she was hit with fines for skipping mandatory post-match media briefings

Osaka had responded to Daugherty’s question at the 2021 Western & Southern Open by saying was proud of her decision to refuse the media briefings. 

‘I felt like it was something I needed to do for yourself. I felt like I holed up in my house for a couple of weeks, and I didn’t know if people would be looking at me in a different way than they usually did before,’ she said.

‘But I think the biggest eye-opener was going to the Olympics and having other athletes come up to me and say they were really glad that I did what I did. After all that, I’m proud of what I did and I think it was something that needed to be done,’ she said.

Osaka began to struggle moments later after the next question about her decision to donate prize money from this week’s tournament to victims of the Haiti earthquake. 

She said ‘No, you’re good,’ and paused. 

Soon after, however, she pulled her hat over her face and wiped tears away with her sleeve before quietly sobbing into the microphone. Shortly afterwards, her press officer halted the question and answer session. 

The reporter was identified as Paul Daugherty, with the Cincinnati Enquirer. Although she answered, the press conference was paused shortly after

The reporter was identified as Paul Daugherty, with the Cincinnati Enquirer. Although she answered, the press conference was paused shortly after 

The exact wording of that question has not been shared, with a clip of Osaka answering that has been shared beginning just as she had begun to answer. 

Tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg, who was also covering the press conference, tweeted that Daugherty, ‘asked (Osaka) a fairly aggressively toned question about how she benefits from a high-media profile but doesn’t like talking to media.  

In his statement attacking Daugherty, Duguid said: ‘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,’ 

‘And this insinuation that Naomi owes her off court success to the media is a myth – don’t be so self-indulgent.’ 

Sharing his reaction on Tuesday, Smith said: ‘My issue is with the agent. He is so off-base with what he said, I can’t say it enough. 

‘I don’t know the reporter at the Cincinnati Enquirer…maybe he came there with a reputation that precedes him and they knew about it. Maybe that’s what it was. We don’t know.’    

Smith had previously defended Osaka for withdrawing from the French Open after he shared his own personal mental health struggles on June 1, the four-year anniversary of his mother’s death.

He said: ‘It’s incredibly important that we support her and we support the millions upon millions of people who go through what she’s going through right now.

‘Anxiety wasn’t my issue, but of course I’ve been devastatingly depressed, and I was in therapy for three years.

‘Acknowledging what my issue was, and going to seek help, helped me to be able to come on national television and be able to articulate positions like this. Because before, I didn’t get it.’

In Daugherty’s article published on Cincinatti.com, he described Osaka as ‘honest’ and ‘thoughtful’ as he humanized her and the experiences she was going through.

Osaka’s decision at the French Open drew some support from other athletes and figures such as Meghan Markle and Michelle Obama, but also a great deal of criticism from others, such as British media personality Piers Morgan, who called her an ‘arrogant spoiled brat’ in a DailyMail.com column.  

Osaka was fined $15,000 for missing a press conference at the French Open and was warned she would face more severe consequences if she skipped anymore – before she bowed out of the tournament altogether. 

She tweeted on May 26 that she found the post-match press briefings like ‘kicking a person while they’re down’ and hit out at organizations for continuing ‘to ignore the mental health of the athletes.’ 

Osaka was fined $15,000 for missing a press conference at the French Open before she bowed out of the tournament

Osaka was fined $15,000 for missing a press conference at the French Open before she bowed out of the tournament

Other athletes have rallied behind Osaka for having the courage to speak out about mental health issues.  

 ‘It’s so sad that we are in a time that when a young person tells you they need help or a break, people respond with anger and a lack of support! I stand with you @naomiosaka. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health,’ former professional basketball player Lisa Leslie tweeted. 

Dina-Asher Smith, a British sprinter also tweeted: ‘If someone is taking steps to protect their mental health people should listen and work together – not double-down and put her in this position. Athletes’ mental health needs to be taken seriously + prioritised. We are people too.’

Smith also defended the fact that Osaka is a young successful woman who is under various obligations as ‘she’s being pulled in a multitude of directions’ and ‘everybody wants something from her.’

 ‘She didn’t just snub her nose at the media,’ Smith said on June 1. 

‘She explained why. It makes perfect sense, it showed incredible courage and thoughtfulness on her part. 

‘And what I would encourage everybody to do is when somebody tells you something like that, you listen to them … and you support them in every way possible.’

Gymnast Simone Biles also faced criticism after withdrawing from the Olympics on July 27 to focus on her mental health

 Gymnast Simone Biles also faced criticism after withdrawing from the Olympics on July 27 to focus on her mental health

This pressure is similar to what Olympic gymnast Simone Biles faced that caused her to suffer a mental breakdown. 

On July 27, Biles pulled out of the Olympics to focus on her mental health which caused a stir of reactions from the public and the media. 

‘There’s more to life than just gymnastics’, Biles said in a press conference.

‘It’s very unfortunate that it happened at this stage because I definitely wanted it to go a little better.

‘Take it one day at a time and we’re gonna see how the rest goes.’ 

Osaka hit headlines in a May 26 tweet (above) when she announced she would not speak to the media during the French Open

Osaka hit headlines in a May 26 tweet (above) when she announced she would not speak to the media during the French Open

 Osaka wrote in an opinion piece for Time that she does ‘love the press’ but believes news conferences in the tennis world are ‘out of date and in great need of a refresh’ and asked for ‘some level of privacy and empathy’ going forward.   

‘This was never about the press, but rather the traditional format of the press conference,’ she explained about her skipping the press briefing,

‘I’ll say it again for those at the back: I love the press; I do not love all press conferences.’

She added that she has enjoyed strong relationships with members of the media throughout her career and has long given time to interviews.   

 DailyMail.com has reached out to Daugherty for comment.

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