📢 We need to talk about Naomi Osaka
Which is why I won't be talking about anything else in this newsletter
Welcome to The Jerky Loudspeaker - an independent sports and culture newsletter, I’m super excited to have you here! Before you dive in, let me quickly break down how the newsletter is structured. Think of it like a mini newspaper, with three sections:
Deep Dive - Each piece/series in this section will be an in-depth analysis of the thoughts and emotions that arise from my interactions and experiences with the arts
Consumption Corner - A weekly review of what I’m watching, reading and listening to.
Balls, Bats & Baskets - As always, sports on the back page. In this section I’ll geek out about the happenings in this world of balls, bats and baskets.
Passion Projects - Once a month, I feature Q&As with creatives from different professional and personal backgrounds.
Balls, Bats & Baskets
I’ve always believed sport is a metaphor for life. That the entire spectrum of human emotion can be found in fields, courts and gyms. That a parallel for nearly every situation can be drawn from this world.
Joe Rogan said on his podcast that ‘there’s a purity to physical pursuit’ and he’s right. There is a purity and there’s also an absurdity to it. To forgo your childhood to forge a career that spans such a short fraction of your life. To commit every single aspect of your being towards performance. To make drastic lifestyle changes to win the battle of margins in the game. To be in a constant battle with yourself.
Athletes are the most self-actualized species on this planet. While an athlete’s work is an escape for me, his/her inner working is source of inspiration. Athletes personify words like guts, tenacity, perseverance and self-belief. They make it tangible.
The narratives of their lives fuels mine. Reading stories of their journey to the top is as goosebumpy as witnessing them reach the pinnacles of success. I find it life affirming. A part of the reason I’ve never resonated with self-help books is because they don’t move in the way a sports autobiography or profile piece does.
Live like an athlete is a motto I’ve increasingly become attached to. And by that, I don’t mean triple gym sessions and specialized diets. I mean leading a life with such a heightened sense of purpose. I don’t feed on these stories of athletes to spark a fire within but to ensure it keeps burning.
In the past couple of months, this fire within has been on the wane. Motivation levels have sagged and compulsion, rather than inspiration, drives my actions. Somewhere deep down I do know that this fire is being doused by exhaustion, but I fear that rest will permanently extinguish it. The middle ground I’ve found is mediocrity and it’s unideal.
I couldn’t rest because that felt like giving up. But, I also couldn’t work because I had no motivation.
Caught in this lowly state of confusion, I once again turned to sport for rekindling purposes. I began binge listening to episodes on The High Performance Podcast - a show where players and sports executives detail their journeys to the top and more importantly how they stayed there. Episodes featuring Rio Ferdinand, Christian Horner, Kasper Schmeichel and Sir Chris Hoy were devoured in a matter of days.
After reading an article about how Rafa Nadal was shaped by his Uncle Tony’s tough love, I picked out Rafa’s autobiography from my bookshelf in the hope that the world’s most dogged man might help me break out of my rut. I purchased Relentless by Tim Grover, the trainer of basketball players like Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant and MJ. I’d heard a lot of good things about it and felt it might be the panacea to my problem, but I couldn’t read beyond the first chapter. The second person writing style felt like being yelled at by a PE instructor.
I briefly considered watching The Last Dance again for a quick adrenaline boost, but going through the Michael Jordan experience felt overwhelming. I read pieces about Emery and Tuchel in the aftermath of their European success and found solace and hope in their redemption arcs.
While my sources were varied, the result was the same - the surge of motivation these pieces of content gave me were short lived. For example, this past Sunday evening, in the aftermath of reading one such article, I drew up an entire plan for the month ahead, detailing all the goals I wanted to achieve and the things I wanted to learn. As is the case with all such plans, it was to begin from the next day. Wake up early, write for two hours, workout and then start my workday. I did end up waking up at 6am on Monday, but I did absolutely fuckall after that. I didn’t write a word and skipped my workout. I was back where I’d been stuck for the past couple of months -
Sometime that day, in the throes of my dispirited state , I came across the news item about how the French Open authorities had threatened to expel Naomi Osaka if continued skipping post-match press conferences. I’d read the statement she’d put out last week about her social anxiety and my first reaction was ‘more power to you’. Speaking up against a practice so closely linked to the game takes courage. It wasn’t just a show of rebellion, it was a show of vulnerability.
I thought the threat of expulsion would break her silence. I didn’t think it would lead to her exit. Her decision didn’t shock me as much as it left me in awe. For all the profiles and podcasts I’d been consuming in the hope that they’d rouse something within me, it was a 500 word-Instagram statement that gave me a moment of clarity after weeks of fogginess.
Here was one of the best athletes in the sport walking away from a tournament she’d never won because it was taking a toll on her sanity. It was in complete contradiction to everything I’d read and heard about mental toughness and overcoming setbacks.
Wasn’t walking away a sign of weakness? Wouldn’t winning the French Open despite having had your mental sanity through the wringer been the ultimate victory? Aren’t we supposed to overcome challenges instead of shirking from them? Aren’t you supposed to keep on keeping to win?
But here was the biggest question that I began asking myself - If Naomi Osaka can walk away from the French Open to take care of herself, why can’t you give yourself a breather ?
All this while I was chasing after something to propel me forward, when what I really needed was something to help me slow down. Naomi Osaka exiting the French Open did that for me. It felt like a wake up call. Maybe perseverance beyond a certain point brings diminishing returns.
There was a line in the statement that stuck with me - ‘I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly’. For all the talk around mental health today, that’s what it still remains - talk. So to see an A-grade athlete put her mental wellbeing before a championship sets a powerful precedent. It seems like a strategy worth replicating.
What I’m reading:
What I’m watching:
What I’m listening to: An episode on the Nike podcast Trained, featuring the company’s CEO John Donahoe where he talks about how he manages his mental health and how transformative therapy has been for him.
I’d love to hear what you thought of this week’s edition! To share your thoughts, comments or if just want to chat, hit me up at email@example.com!
In last week’s edition:
Deep Dive: How the ‘basic’ label ruined my relationship with FRIENDS.
Consumption Corner: A thread on cities as music albums, the Nike ad that gave me goosebumps & the new J.Cole album
Balls, Bats & Baskets: Revisiting my Premier League predictions from the start of the season.
Read it here!