‘Man You’re Soft. Go Deal With That’| Giannis Antetokounmpo Understands Naomi Osaka’s Mental Health Journey Because He Has His Own

Image Credit: Giannis Antetokounmpo Twitter

Perhaps it is our fault for pouring more into the athletic prowess of an athlete than they wanted. The power of hardwood dominance in the paint or explosive back serves on the Wimbledon green imbue more influence over us mere athletic mortals.

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However, all admiration comes at a cost to the admired, and for both Naomi Osaka and Giannis Antetokounmpo, that cost has been mental health.

Mental Health Is The New Normal

“I started doing it when I was 18,” said Giannis to GQ Sports. “When you’re that young and you’re doing it, people don’t understand the amount of pressure because, at the end of the day, you don’t only have to perform and be the best, you have the big brand that you got to f**king carry on your shoulder.”

“You have your own country, Japan, that you got to carry on your shoulder. Or Greece, in my case. You have all these people that you got to take care of.”

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Since entering the NBA at 18 years old, Giannis has had to represent Greece as the “Greek Freak” and fill the star chasm missing in Milwaukee. Although he led the Bucks to their first NBA championship since 1971 last year, the back-to-back MVP knew it was expected of him.

The Osaka Factor

Similarly, after Naomi Osaka defeated her idol, Serena Williams, at the 2018 U.S. Open Finals, becoming the first-ever Japanese Grand Slam champion, she revealed her battles with anxiety and depression.

In her Netflix documentary, Watch Naomi Osaka, intimate moments showed Osaka constantly concerned about the pressures of being a superstar.

This pressure is compounded by the issues of identity as a biracial youth and being a symbol for both Japan and Haiti. Even within her universe as a top-tier athlete, she was concerned if she let down Kobe Bryant, who imparted jewels of athletic success to her before passing away in a January 2020 helicopter crash.

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Champ Pressure

En route to becoming an NBA champion and then achieving that goal, Giannis also understands the journey to achieve a semblance of normalcy. However, like Osaka, he is embracing the admission of his mental health journey.

“We’ve seen that in the past like, ‘Oh man, I’m having anxiety.’ ‘Man, you’re soft,” said Giannis to GQ Sports on professional athletes’ decision to see mental health professionals. “Go deal with that.’ That’s how it’s labeled. That’s why it’s hard for people to talk to somebody and open up. Even for me it was extremely tough.”

New Solutions For Old Pressure

Giannis is GQ’s Athlete of The Year with all the pressure that comes with being a cover boy. However, since 2019, he has discussed how being positioned as the face of the NBA tests his countenance but he has figured out how to maintain himself amidst the chatter.

“I sat back and thought about that,” Giannis said to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2019. “Should I have a little bit more American swag, should I come with a suit to the game, should I be more Americanized? But, man, if I can’t be the face of the league being me, I don’t want to be the face of the league. That’s pretty much it.”

That is the secret to conquering mental health challenges both in and out of the spotlight, just being yourself. Both Osaka and Giannis stand now as examples of living your truth.

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.