In the Arena

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In the 2000 Ridley Scott film Gladiator*, Maximus, (Russell Crowe) is the most famous gladiator in the Roman Empire. With a victory against impossible odds, he wins the crowd and his life, only to be murdered by Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) with a concealed, poison dagger. This was a moment Maximus wasn’t expecting or prepared for.

Naomi Osaka made headlines recently by dropping out of the French Open. Like Maximus, it wasn’t her performance in the arena, but afterward that she feared. It’s a complicated issue. Osaka’s contract states that she must speak to the press. Even tennis greats Billie Jean King and Rafael Nadal noted how valuable press coverage was to their careers and to the advancement of women in the sport.

Elite athletes have human weaknesses like the rest of us. In our opinion, there should be an “opt-out” clause for press interviews-- when you lose. Yes, the commerce side of sports needs to be served, so feature the winners, who are the stars that day. But having the press grill an exhausted athlete who lost won’t serve anyone, unless it’s “reality-TV” fans who love pain, arguing or suffering.

And no matter what your profession or arena, accept that you might be in the spotlight at any time, be it regular media or social media. Unless the world changes, it’s up to you to be prepared. Osaka said, “I am not a natural born public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media.”

After twenty years of training speakers, we have yet to see a natural born public speaker, and most of us have anxiety. When you succeed and go out front, you’re a target. But with specific skills and practice, you too can manage your moment in the spotlight.

*Thanks to Asher Dahan (an excellent tennis player) for the Gladiator reference.

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