22-year-old tennis phenomenon Naomi Osaka made a stand for Black lives at the 2020 U.S. Open, which took place Sept. 17-20. Osaka, who represents Japan on the court, has a total of 6 titles in her career.
For each of the tournament’s seven rounds Osaka wore a mask with the name of a different Black person whose death has been cited in protests for racial justice: Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Amhaud Arbery, Travon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice. Osaka posted pictures of her masks to her social media each day of the tournament, where her fans showed their support in the comments.
“Representation matters. Serena and Venus Williams blazed a path in tennis that helped young stars like Naomi Osaka follow in their footsteps and forge new inroads of their own,” said global philanthropist and women’s advocate Melinda Gates on Twitter. “Together, they’re changing the game.”
Osaka posted the masked photos largely without captions, with one notable exception: the mask bearing the name Trayvon Martin. In her caption, Osaka described the impact Martin’s death had on her.
“I remember Trayvon’s death clearly,” Osaka said. “I remember being a kid and just feeling scared. I actually didn’t wear hoodies for years cause I wanted to decrease the odds of looking suspicious.”
Osaka is aware that this was not the first Black death that spurred a movement for racial justice, but for her it was the one that opened her eyes and has made an impact on her personal life.
“Things have to change,” Osaka said on Instagram.
Osaka previously withdrew from a tournament prior to the U.S. Open to show her support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Afterward, she took to Instagram to explain to the world and her fans why she decided to pull out of her semi-finals match of the Western & Southern Open.
In her post, Osaka explained how she was sick of the recent events that have happened with African American people and the police.
“Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman. And as a black woman I feel as though there are more important matters at hand that need immediate attention,” Osaka said. “Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach.”
Osaka continued her post, explaining how she is exhausted of new hashtags that appear as well as having to repeat the same conversations repeatedly. Pulling out of this tournament was something that caught the attention of the tennis world as well as her fans. Thousands of her fans reposted and commented on Osaka’s post to show their support and help spread awareness.
As a result of her efforts in activism and on-court achievement, Osaka was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020.
The tennis community was ready to see what she planned to do next at upcoming events such as the Italian Open and the French Open. Unfortunately, Osaka’s hamstring was still sore from capturing another grand slam title at the U.S. Open, leaving her without time to prepare for the events. Osaka revealed on Instagram that she will not be competing in the French Open because both the U.S. Open and French Open came too close to each other for her. Usually, these events are months apart but due to COVID-19 there was a need to move the events closer together to allow players more opportunities to compete. However, Osaka reassured her fans that they will see her again very soon.