Jeffrey Sparr: “Thank You, But No Thank You”

mental health
By Jeffrey Sparr

Given recent news surrounding Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from Wimbledon, Serena Williams’ struggles with mental health, and new developments from Osaka and Simone Biles at the Olympics, artist Jeffrey Sparr lets his creative juices run free as he paints a beautiful tribute to Naomi Osaka and the strength she displayed.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen Naomi Osaka withdraw from the French Open and Wimbledon to address her mental health needs. Though I’m always following stories about mental health, this one stuck out to me particularly, because I’m a huge tennis fan. I played at Ohio State University, and it was during that time that I noticed my own mental illness, OCD, really come to light. So this story has felt really close to me, and has been on my mind a lot.

From a young age athletes are taught to push themselves. There’s a saying you hear a lot in sports, “mind over matter.” Maybe we need to interpret that differently. Maybe it’s time we really start putting the mind first. Competitive sports are a testimony to how much the human body can accomplish. But pushing yourself isn’t always a good thing. Not just as a former athlete, but as a person living with mental illness, I commend Naomi for knowing her limits, and for advocating for herself and setting boundaries.

By choosing to not talk, she has sparked a much bigger conversation. A conversation that the sports world has needed. How are we taking care of the mental health of our athletes?

I played tennis in college in the 80’s. We weren’t talking about our mental health then. We didn’t have the language, and we certainly didn’t have the role models. As my struggles with OCD became less and less manageable during that time, I didn’t know who to talk to. I felt alone, and I didn’t want to talk about it with anybody because I was so afraid of how it would be perceived. I have a lot of empathy for Naomi. She’s just trying to take care of herself.

Something that would normally be private for most people is really public here. But, I think the brave thing she’s doing is going to be so important for young tennis fans, and youth athletes across the board. They’re going to see that even a superstar athlete who has it all has to make time for themselves.

Take a peek below at the creative process behind this work of art:

To check out more work by Sparr for SEEMA, see Jeffrey Sparr’s “Red Carpet Thoughts”