Tennis champion Naomi Osaka told her 600,000-plus Twitter followers that she cried after replaying a video of Trayvon Martin‘s mother and Ahmaud Arbery‘s father thanking her for wearing their sons’ names on face masks.
On Tuesday, Sept. 8, Osaka beat Shelby Rogers in their women’s singles quarterfinal match at the U.S. Open in New York and had an interview with ESPN afterward, where she was first played the video.
Arbery was shot and killed in February by father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael while he was jogging in Glynn County, Georgia. The 17-year-old Martin was walking back to his residence from a trip to a convenience store when he was fatally shot by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in February 2012 in Sanford, Florida.
“I just want to say thank you to Naomi Osaka for representing Trayvon Martin on your customized mask and also for Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor,” said Martin’s mom Sybrina Fulton at the interview’s 4:11 mark. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Continue to do well. Continue to kick butt at the U.S. Open.”
“Naomi, I just want to tell you thank you for the support [of] my family and God bless you for what you’re doing,” Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, said in a separate video. “My family really, really appreciates that.”
The two-time Grand Slam winner was asked by the ESPN reporter what the videos meant to her after she was shown them.
“It means a lot,” she answered. “I feel like, I don’t know, they’re so strong. I’m not sure what I would be able to do if I was in their position. I feel like I’m a vessel at this point in order to spread awareness and it’s not going to dull the pain but hopefully, I can help with anything that they need.”
For this U.S. Open Osaka has been wearing face masks bearing the names of people who’ve died at the hands of police officers or white vigilantes. She began with Breonna Taylor’s name when she entered Arthur Ashe stadium for her first-round match against Japan’s Misaki Doi on Aug. 31.
Taylor is the 26-year-old woman who was shot and killed by officers from the Louisville Metro Police Department when they barged into her home to serve a no-knock search warrant in March.
Other names that Osaka wore in separate matches include those of George Floyd, who died in police custody in May in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Elijah McClain, who died on Aug. 30, 2019, six days after he was stopped by Aurora, Colorado, police officers as he was walking home from a convenience store.
McClain went into cardiac arrest after he was injected with a sedative following a struggle with the officers, and he never recovered at the hospital.
Osaka said at the start of the tournament that she has seven masks that show names of Black people who’ve died in police custody or at the hands of racists, and she’s worn several of them, including ones for Arbery and Martin, as she’s advanced to the semifinals. The 22-year-old tweeted a message about the video that Martin’s mother and Arbery’s father left and said watching it again left her in tears.
“I often wonder if what I’m doing is resonating and reaching as many people as I hope,” she tweeted Tuesday night. “That being said, I tried to hold it in on set but after watching these back I cried so much. The strength and the character both of these parents have is beyond me. Love you both, thank you.”