Hamilton’s reminder of athletes’ vulnerability leaves lessons to be learned
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A series of powerful messages as F1’s most open and outspoken driver have acted as a catalyst for change within the sport in his quest for equality amid his ongoing fight against racism and injustice.But Hamilton’s influence also extends beyond the cosmos of F1, having used his platform as a top-level athlete and celebrity figure for good by pedalling important topics such as environmental concerns and animal welfare.Most recently, Hamilton has spread awareness of mental health through his support of Naomi Osaka. The four-time Grand Slam singles tennis champion released a statement in the build up to the French Open saying she was not going to take part in media duties, citing the impact of news conferences on the mental health of athletes.Osaka won her first round tie but was fined $15,000 for refusing to take part in the post-match press conference. She was warned by Grand Slam organisers she could face harsher sanctions including expulsion from future events if she continued her media boycott. The 23-year-old responded by announcing she was withdrawing from the tournament after revealing she has been struggling with anxiety and depression. Related ArticlesaccImages.createImage(); Why Alonso has found F1 return better than expectedaccImages.createImage(); Why Alonso has found F1 return better than expectedMental health is not a joke, this is real and serious. This takes a lot of courage to do. Let’s all make sure Naomi knows she’s not alone. Today is a good day to check and ask your friends and loved ones how they are doing and let them know they are not alone. https://t.co/2ytC6k1hHd— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) June 1, 2021Hamilton jumped to Osaka’s defence on social media earlier this week, and speaking during Thursday’s FIA press conference ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku, he criticised the French Open organisers for their stance. “I think she’s incredibly brave and I applaud her for her bravery because it’s now asking those in power… putting them in question and making them have to think about how they react,” the seven-time world champion said. Related ArticlesaccImages.createImage(); Sainz explains how F1 team switches have helped him settle into Ferrari quicklyaccImages.createImage(); Sainz explains how F1 team switches have helped him settle into Ferrari quickly“I think the way they reacted was not good, with the fine. Someone talking about their personal mental health, and then being fined for it… that wasn’t cool. They could have definitely handled it better. I hope they take a deep dive into it and find a better way to navigate in the future. “As athletes we are pushing ourselves to the limit, we are on the edge. And we are only human beings.” While Hamilton felt he was not in a position to offer Osaka advice, he felt the matter highlighted how stressful it can be for young athletes to cope with the pressures of dealing with the media in the modern age. “4XPB_216633_HiRes.jpg accImages.createImage();“At such a young age there’s so much weight on her shoulders,” he added. “The fact is, when you’re young you’re thrown into the limelight and into the spotlight and it weighs heavily on you. “The thing is most of us are not prepared. I remember when I got to Formula 1 and the team [McLaren] had PR. I was never prepared for being thrown in front of a camera, I was never guided as to what to look out for, and helped to navigate through that. “You kind of learn through mistakes. It’s incredibly nerve-wracking, especially when you have all good intentions but people take advantage of it.”Hamilton is able to draw on his own experiences of not being prepared to be “thrown into the pit” as he calls it, and admitted he has made plenty of mistakes along the way.”5With Hamilton being such a high-profile figure, almost everything he says and does prompts scrutiny and questioning. At times, he has struggled with the harsh spotlight over the 14 years since he burst onto the F1 scene at the age of just 22. At Monaco in 2011, Hamilton responded to the stewards decision to penalise him three times in two days by quoting Ali G, saying: “Maybe it’s because I’m black.” That came during what was arguably Hamilton’s most difficult season in F1 as he battled off track personal problems. XPB_845426_HiRes.jpg accImages.createImage();After qualifying at the 2016 Japanese Grand Prix, Hamilton walked out of a Mercedes press conference due to what he felt was “disrespectful” media coverage. Even at the last race in Monaco, the Briton caused a stir when he publicly criticised his team. In today’s press conference, Hamilton acknowledged that “in the heat of the moment, you don’t always say the best things.”And Hamilton is not alone. One of Briton’s rising F1 stars, 23-year-old George Russell, recently received backlash for his actions in the immediate aftermath of his high-speed with Valtteri Bottas at Imola. “6Is it time to change how F1 media operates? With the Osaka situation bringing the dynamic between elite athletes and the media into the spotlight, has the time come for the traditional press conference format to be freshened up?“I think it’s a really good question, but I haven’t put really any thought to that because I’ve just come here to do my job,” Hamilton responded when asked if changes should be considered in F1. “7“I’ve learned the hard way and made many a mistake and I still do today. It can be daunting, still, standing behind a camera. It’s not the easiest. “Particularly if you’re an introvert and you do struggle to be under those sorts of pressures. Some people are less comfortable with it than others. “I’ve learned over my time here, and I’m trying to continue to learn how I engage. But as I said, when I was young I was thrown into the pit and I wasn’t given any guidance or support. “8“What I do know is when youngsters are coming in, they’re facing the same thing as I did. And I don’t necessarily know if that’s the best for them. I think we need to be supporting more. It shouldn’t be a case where you’re pressured. “There are scenarios where, for example with Naomi’s scenario, she didn’t feel comfortable for her own personal health not to do something and the backlash is ridiculous. “People are not taking into account that she’s a human being and she’s saying that [she’s] not well enough to do this right now. I think that need to be really looked into and how people react to that and rather be supportive and uplifting to her.””9XPB_1008506_HiRes.jpg accImages.createImage();McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo believes it has become “very easy just to see someone as their profession, but not from a wider aspect of what they really are in their day-to-day life” as he called on the media to be more considerate. “People always have other things going on,” he added. “A decision like that just needs to be respected and people just need to respect that with an open-mind. If someone needs space, give it to them. “In general, the media have to be careful with how they write things. People can be quite sensitive and feelings are real. No one seems to be bulletproof, so have some things taken into account when going after someone.” His McLaren teammate Lando Norris has been particularly open in talking about battling his own demons since arriving in F1 in 2019, revealing that he feared anxiety and confidence issues risked impacting his second season in the sport. “10Working with a mind coach throughout 2019 ultimately helped ease some of his struggles in his first season and Norris is now in a position where he feels comfortable dealing with his mental health on his own. McLaren has a partnership with the mental health charity Mind as part of its support for F1’s #WeRaceAsOne campaign, and Norris believes great strides have been made over the past year in helping to spread awareness of the topic. “We have our partnership with Mind and we do a lot of things with them, a lot of things within the team,” he explained. “It’s not just for the drivers, but mechanics, engineers, people back in the factory to allow them to speak up. To allow them to say what they want to say. “And make the whole atmosphere within the team feel better, and allow people to say what they want to say and allow themselves to feel better too. “It has changed but only because it has been more and more advanced, and talking about it more, and people will be more open about it and things like that. So from my side I feel a lot better. “I feel mentally in a better position. I feel I can be confident saying that a lot of the team are as well.” Hamilton says that one of the biggest lessons he has learned over his F1 career is that athletes should never feel pressured to live up to certain expectations at the expense of their mental health.“I think a bit like Naomi, never sacrifice your personal health or your mental state to expectations that society puts on you,” he said. “Do what’s best for you to keep you in the right place. As long as you are respectful, which she was and I believe always has been.” It has been refreshing and welcome to witness Hamilton develop into an eloquent, mature and considerate individual over the past few years.Perhaps Hamilton’s latest comments will resonate and spark a re-think of how the relationship between the media and sports stars works. He has certainly left some food for thought.XPB_852622_HiRes (1).jpg accImages.createImage();
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