Many of you reading this may never have heard of the Swedish actress Greta Garbo.
She became a top Hollywood star in 1926, at the age of 20 after making the film Flesh and The Devil less than a year after arriving from her native Sweden. She retained that stature for 17 years, until 1941, when she retired from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, at the age of 36. Garbo appeared in 28 feature films and was known as "the divine". However, during that time she shunned the Hollywood publicity machine and was a well-known recluse. She refused interviews, autographs, premieres, and fan mail throughout her life in Beverly Hills. After retiring while still in her thirties, she moved to New York and lived alone in an apartment in Manhattan. She never married or had children.
A famous quip attributed to Greta Garbo as her reason for leaving the Hollywood bubble is the short, sardonic sentence “I want to be alone.” But the actress later claimed that she had been misquoted. “I never said, ‘I want to be alone,’” she explained, according to a 1955 piece in LIFE magazine. “I only said, ‘I want to be let alone! There is all the difference.”
Happily, by all accounts, she lived out her days in New York with a wide circle of friends and an active social life so maybe she did indeed merely want to be left alone, not left all alone.
Now fast forward over half a century and move from movies to sport. Left-handed batsman Marcus Trescothick who played for Somerset as well as his country, scored 5,825 runs in 76 Tests for England in an international career lasting from 2000 to 2006. He was one of his country's star performers across all formats during that time, also racking up 4,335 one-day international runs - more than any other England opener, and played a key role when they beat Australia to win the 2005 Ashes.
But in February 2006, Trescothick left a tour of India because of what was described at the time as a "stress-related illness" - and, though he returned to the side on home soil, he would also fly back from the Ashes tour in Australia later that year before a ball had been bowled. When he attempted another tour overseas in 2008, this time to Dubai with the Somerset cricket team, Trescothick had another breakdown at Heathrow Airport. The announcement of his retirement from international cricket followed soon after.
Trescothick’s problem appeared to be severe separation anxiety, a form of agoraphobia which manifested itself whenever he was sent on an overseas tour. His autobiography ‘Coming Back To Me’ explains how he had talks with his team management as well as the England Cricket Board to try and retain his place on the national squad for home fixtures but this was rejected on the basis that it would be unfair to his team mates who were expected to tour as and when required, regardless of inconvenience to their personal lives.
And moving now to present day, women’s world No. 2 ranked tennis player, Naomi Osaka, dramatically pulled out of the French Open at Roland Garros this week, after a row over media interaction. The board of the four Grand Slams said in a statement that the French Open organisers had asked Osaka to reconsider her position and tried unsuccessfully to speak with her to resolve the matter.
“The Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open jointly wrote to her to check on her well-being and offer support, underline their commitment to all athletes’ well-being, and suggest dialogue,” the statement read. “She was also reminded of her obligations, the consequences of not meeting them, and that rules should equally apply to all players. Naomi Osaka today chose not to honour her contractual media obligations. The Roland Garros referee has therefore issued her a $15,000 fine.”
The fine is unlikely to prove much of a rap on the knuckles for Osaka who, according to sports business website Sportico, earned $55.2 million over the past 12 months. In the run-up to the clay-court major, the world No. 2 announced she would boycott news conferences while in Paris to raise awareness of players’ mental well-being, saying the nature of questions from journalists is like “kicking a person when they are down…..I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris. I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer,” Osaka wrote on Instagram. “More importantly I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly. 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.”
Rafa Nadal, a 20-times Grand Slam winner, and women’s world No. 1 Ash Barty have said they believe players have a duty to address the media. It is a contractual obligation in return for the high-rolling corporate sponsorship on which professional tennis relies and like Trescothick, it’s one rule for everyone, no exceptions. It’s also why its stars are paid the big bucks.
That’s not to trivialise either of the mental issue suffered by the two sports players but the fact is that sport today is vastly different to sport a few decades ago when it was all about the playing and performance whereas today there is massive financial aspect – that’s why the top players earn such huge amounts and let’s face it, 55 million dollars in a single year is scarcely chickenfeed. But with the apocryphal ‘glittering prizes’ , comes the glare of the spotlight. It’s impossible to be a shrinking violet off the pitch or court and be a superstar as soon as play begins.
Only time will tell if Osaka, like Trescothick, chooses to take a back seat and retire to the fringes of professional sport. Wimbledon already looms large when the publicity machine issue will yet again rear its ugly head. It is speculated that Osaka will not take part but only she can make that decision – that like Garbo she would prefer to be left alone and out of the spotlight.
Advantage Grand Slam or match point, Ms. Osaka?