DeKalb, IL — Naomi Osaka — the two-time Grand Slam champion who rose to popularity after beating the legendary Serena Williams in the 2018 United States Open women’s singles final — has used her various platforms to advocate for social justice issues and more recently the Black Lives Matter movement.
She was named a 2020 Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated and will appear on the January cover of Vogue. In the interview for Vogue, Osaka is seen wearing a mask with the name Emmett Till on it to continue raising awareness around the senseless killings of Black lives.
“I used to think that everything depended on the game, and now I sort of understand that you have to find balance,” the 23-year-old said, according to Vogue. “I want to become knowledgeable, to have a vast understanding of things, or even lots of tiny things that amount to one big thing.”
In September, Osaka used her commercial time with sponsor Hyperice, which ran ads on ESPN during the tournament, to speak out further about racial inequality.
Days after Jacob Blake was shot by police officers in Kenosha, Wis. in August, she was the only tennis player to announce that she wouldn’t play in the semifinals match of the Western & Southern Open because, as she stated, “before I am an athlete, I am a Black woman.” And she’s been using her platform to elevate activism ever since.
Osaka was one of the many athletes who refused to play as the NBA, MLB and WNBA all postponed games after teams refused to play in August.
“As a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention rather than watching me play tennis,” she said in an August Instagram post. “I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.”
In late May, she flew to Minneapolis to take part in protests that erupted across the country following the death of George Floyd who was killed by police officers while being arrested.
“We grieved with the people of St. Paul and protested peacefully,” she said in an Op-Ed for Esquire. “We visited the George Floyd Memorial and connected with those who came together to mourn yet another senseless act and life lost without reason.”
Osaka reflected on the platform she had as a young Black and Asian tennis player and how it was her time to “speak up.”
She continued her activism on the tennis court. Each day during the U.S. Open, she wore seven different face masks for each round of the annual tournament. The names included Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice.
When asked by a reporter what message she wanted to send by wearing the masks, Osaka responded: “Well, what was the message that you got was more the question. I feel like the point is to make people start talking.”