Tennis star Naomi Osaka briefly left the room in tears following a question from a reporter Monday in her first press conference since she shared her mental health struggles nearly three months ago.
Osaka, 23, who is playing at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati this week, took a question from a Cincinnati Enquirer journalist during a Zoom press conference about how she deals with the media when she became upset.
"You're not crazy about dealing with us, especially in this format, yet you have a lot of outside interests that are served by having a media platform. I guess my question is, how do you balance the two?" veteran sports columnist Paul Daugherty asked.
"When you say I'm not crazy about dealing with you guys, what does that refer to?" she asked Daugherty.
The moderator asked Osaka if she would like to move on to the next question, but she declined and asked Daugherty to repeat the question before she finished the exchange after a long pause.
""I can't really help that there are some things that I tweet or some things that I say that kind of create a lot of news articles or things like that. And I know that it's because I've won a couple Grand Slams and I’ve gotten to do a lot of press conferences that these things happen," Osaka said. "But I would also say I'm not really sure how to balance it. I'm figuring it out at the same time as you are, I would say."
Seconds later, she started to cry and left the room. However, she returned after a short time to finish taking questions. Her agent, Stuart Duguid, took issue with the question by Daugherty in a statement to NBC News.
"The bully at the Cincinnati Enquirer is the epitome of why player/media relations are so fraught right now," he said. "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."
Cincinnati Enquirer Executive Editor Beryl Love defended Daugherty's question in a statement to NBC News.
"We appreciate the respectful dialogue with Ms. Osaka at the press conference. 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," Love said.
Daugherty wrote about their exchange in a column about Osaka.
"She’s very human and doesn’t mind showing it," he wrote.
Monday's press conference was the first for Osaka since she withdrew from the French Open after refusing to speak to the media and shared her mental health struggles. She later withdrew from playing at Wimbledon as well before deciding to compete in the Tokyo Olympics, where she was upset in the third round and did not medal.