Rising tennis star Naomi Osaka made an emphatic return to the U.S. Open tennis championships over the past two weeks, officially securing her second career win. However, it was what she said after her victory that made an even more powerful mark.
From the start of the competition, Osaka arrived at the court each match wearing a different face mask with the name of a Black person who’d died at the hands of police or anyone else during incidents that may have been racist in nature. The 22 year old wanted to spread awareness to the racial injustices Black people face in America. The tennis star started her silent protest by wearing a Black mask that featured Breonna Taylor‘s name on it while walking on the court at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, New York, on Aug. 31.
Following the finale and her title-winning match on Saturday, Sept. 12, against Victoria Azarenka, Osaka was asked by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi about the message behind the gestures. In proper leadership form, the athlete responded, “Well, what was the message that you got? [That] was more of the question. I feel like the point is to make people start talking.”
She continued, “I’ve been inside of the bubble so I’m not really sure what’s really going on in the outside world. All I can tell what’s going on is on social media. For me, I feel like the more retweets it gets — that’s so lame — the more people talk about it.”
Osaka donned the names of Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tamir Rice, whose mask she wore that Saturday. Martin’s mother and Arbery’s father both thanked Osaka for wearing the masks.
The star began using her platform to speak out against racism following the death of George Floyd. In May 2020, Floyd died after a now-fired Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes. Osaka showed her support by posting messages about his death online and struck back at critics who condemned her for addressing racial issues.
On June 1, the athlete tweeted, “When you tweet about the lootings before you tweet about the death of an unarmed black man.” In another post, she wrote, “I see people been ghost on twitter for a week when the events first started unfolding, but as soon as the looting started they sure are quick to give us hourly updates on how they’re feeling once again.”
Earlier in the week, Osaka spoke out on the criticism she faced saying, “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.”