Naomi Osaka/Gettys Image
The 2020 US Open was unlike any other tennis event in history. Tournament stands were intentionally empty due to COVID-19, players were required to quarantine, and Naomi Osaka shared the names of seven African Americans who were killed by police- one for each round of the tournament.
Naomi, a 22-year-old tennis superstar and three-time Grand Slam winner, has climbed to number 3 in the WTA ranking. She was born in Japan to a Haitian father and Japan to a Japanese mother. Naomi acknowledges her Haitian-Japanese heritage and identifies as Black and Asian. Naomi is using her platform to amplify the Black Lives Matter movement and highlight racial injustice and police brutality victims: Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile, and Tamir Rice.
“I feel like I'm a vessel at this point to spread awareness”
When asked during an ESPN interview why she wore the masks, Naomi replied, “I feel like I'm a vessel at this point to spread awareness”. Naomi’s decision to stand with the BLM movement helps to bring social justice awareness to tennis, a predominantly white sport. This stance could also be risky because Naomi is the female athlete in 2020. However, at this point, Naomi seems to deem this cause as a risk worth taking.
Naomi hoped that wearing the masks would “get people talking”. Mission accomplished. Social media and news outlets are abuzz. Not only about how she persevered through the US Open as one of the best tennis players, but also about her decision to highlight social injustice. Naomi transcends social boundaries and is a celebrity in the US, Japan and Haiti. Young adults in and outside the tennis world continue to lend their support for her peaceful protest and many hope that other prominent athletes will do the same.