Naomi Osaka and Roger Federer stunned the world at the French Open this year when they withdrew from the tournament. Whether you agree or disagree with their decision, there is something fundamental about how they employ their will and their success.
Naomi decided before her match began that she would not attend the required post-match press conference. She announced her decision before she played and then went on to win her match. The press and the tournament officials were not happy with Naomi's decision and let her know that they would penalize her accordingly with a $15k fine. The matter, however, was not closed by the officials, and Osaka decided to withdraw from the event. Roger Federer won three rounds this year at Roland Garros before he decided to withdraw from the event. Citing concern for his newly rehabbed knee, he chose not to go on.
Pundits, fans, and even world leaders have shared their opinions on the withdrawals. I think that is because their decisions were mature and substantive. Roger and Naomi demonstrated their power in leadership and shook the institutions supporting the game to their core values.
When a person says I "will" or "won't," they communicate clearly and powerfully. When a person says I "can't," they are blaming circumstance as fate. Roger and Naomi were not incapacitated when they made their decisions. The universe didn't make their decisions for them. They decided as proven champions to exercise their will. Naomi and Roger didn't achieve their greatness by chance. They exercised their will to get to the top. So when they chose to withdraw, they weren't saying I can't go on; they were saying I won't go on. There is a big difference.
Whether you agree with their decision is not the point, it is the fact that their decision is debatable that shows their leadership and strength as people. Lesser players will play until they break. The decision to continue is made for them. Playing until you break may be seen as noble by those who own the arena, it is the desired mindset of a gladiator and a soldier in battle, but it is not leadership. It is sacrifice.
I don't just applaud Roger and Naomi for their leadership; I am inspired by it. Good decisions are not always easy, but when they align with your values and are consistent with our human values, they can reverberate and bring positive change and growth within our communities. A person shouldn't harm themselves to do their job. It seems so obvious now—people matter.