For other tennis stars, leaving the tour for a time and quitting a major tournament in the middle might hurt their income. Corporate sponsors have been known to drop, or at least cool off on, athletes receiving negative publicity. Also, they count on their players being around deep into tournaments to give their logos and products plenty of exposure. So other players' contracts reduce payments if a playing time declines. But Naomi Osaka, who's made a record $55 million of her $60 million income in the past year in endorsements, might not have those concerns, Forbes reports. Her withdrawal from the French Open, when she cited social anxiety in refusing to do media interviews, might be looked at differently now than it would have been in another time—or with another athlete. "With mental health, we have to treat it just like physical health," a marketing professor at Georgetown said. "Would breaking her leg hurt her with sponsors? Things happen."
Nike, Nissan, and TAG Heuer are among the brands that immediately stated their support of Osaka, per Reuters, often casting it in terms of her courage for publicly discussing mental health. Branding experts say that when athletes discuss their personal struggles or beliefs, once thought of as off-limits, it resonates as authentic with consumers, per AdAge, and sponsors are supportive. Also, Osaka already had a reputation for taking stands on justice issues, which has only helped her popularity; only Roger Federer, LeBron James and Tiger Woods have made more in endorsements in the past year. "Social consciousness was probably the sixth- or seventh-biggest issue for brands a year or two ago; now it's the first or second," a consultant said, adding that he doesn't expect the Osaka brand to be hurt. "Where she comes out of this personally as opposed to professionally will hopefully be a good story that sponsors will want to be a part of." (Read more Naomi Osaka stories.)