A host of brands have come out in support of Naomi Osaka after the tennis star opened up about her struggles with mental health as part of her withdrawal from the French Open. In the past, such subjects may have been taboo, but no longer. Branding experts say that celebrities and athletes are more willing to vocalize their personal beliefs and struggles. This authenticity resonates with consumers—and brands are backing the stars for it.
“The move towards social justice over the last several years has given athletes a heightened voice and over time, they’ve extended that to other areas of keen interest and personal importance to them—[including] their own mental health,” says David M. Carter, associate professor, sports business at the USC Marshall School of Business. “Years ago, owners, sponsors and media partners were reluctant to allow that platform but now, if you are not providing full-throated support for an athlete’s voice, then the belief is you are going to harm your own brand.”
Over the weekend, the French Tennis Federation fined Osaka over her refusal to participate in press conferences; the tennis star later withdrew from the tournament, detailing her struggles in a statement.
“The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that,” she wrote. “Anyone that knows me knows I’m introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I am often wearing headphones as that helps my social anxiety. I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media.”