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Tennis Victor Offers Empathy to Opponent

After Naomi Osaka defeated Coco Gauss in the third round of the US Open tennis tournament, she did something that inspired fans and viewers around the world. She gave her crying opponent a hug. Not only that, but when ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez went to give Osaka the postgame interview, Osaka pulled Gauss back into the spotlight, so they could share the moment together.

“She did amazing, and I'm going to learn a lot from this match,” Gauff said, gesturing at Osaka between tears. “She's been so sweet to me, so thank you for this. Thank you.”

Osaka said, “It was kind of instinctive because when I shook her hand, I saw that she was kind of tearing up a little and it reminded me how young she was. For me, I just thought about what I wanted her to feel leaving the court. I wanted her to have her head high, not walk off the court sad. I want her to be aware that she's accomplished so much, and she's still so young.”

The moment of gracious empathy was a near reenactment of last year’s US Open Final, when Osaka had beaten tennis legend Serena Williams. The crowd was booing Osaka’s victory because they were displeased with what appeared to be unwarranted penalties, but Williams was having none of it. Still distraught from losing the match, Williams still consoled Osaka and congratulated her for the win.

Williams clearly had a positive impact on Osaka, as she was able to behave as a mentor to Gauss despite being only 21-years-old herself. Gauss said, “After the match, I think she just proved that she's a true athlete. For me, the definition of an athlete is someone who on the court treats you like your worst enemy but off the court can be your best friend. I think that's what she did tonight.”

Potential preaching angles: Even moments of competition can still be leavened with compassion and empathy. Showing grace and understanding to your opponents, especially in a highly charged emotional environment, can leave an indelible impression not only on your opponents but nearby spectators.

Source: D'Arcy Maine, “Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff teach a lesson in humility and sportsmanship,” ESPN (8-31-19)

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