Naomi Osaka will continue to use her platform to bring attention to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I watched the Trayvon [Martin] stuff go down," she shared, detailing her early awakening to racial injustice and the disproportionate killings of unarmed Black individuals in the U.S. "For me that was super-scary." Naomi continued, "I travel so much during the year that I don’t always know the news that’s centered in the U.S. But then when the pandemic hit, there were no distractions I was forced to look.”
Days after George Floyd’s death, Naomi said she and her boyfriend, Cordae, traveled to Minneapolis to join the protests in George's honor. “I don’t think it matters if you’re shy or not, or if you’re introverted or extroverted. You’re just there in the moment," she said of her experience at the protest, which was the first time she'd ever attended a rally of any kind. "When you see it in real life—so many cameras filming everyone, police with guns outside the city hall, the parents of other victims telling their stories—it kind of hits you differently. You’re able to process it on your own terms.”
The three-time Grand Slam champion additionally spoke about her heritage and race, sharing how her racial and ethnic identity feeds her activism. “I think I confuse people because some people label me, and they expect me to stick to that label," she shared. "Since I represent Japan, some people just expect me to be quiet and maybe only speak about Japanese topics. I consider myself Japanese-Haitian-American. I always grew up with a little bit more Japanese heritage and culture, but I’m Black, and I live in America, and I personally didn’t think it was too far-fetched when I started talking about things that were happening here. There are things going on here that really scare me.”
After her trip to Minneapolis, Naomi "entered an intense 10-week training block in preparation for the late-summer tournaments," Vogue shared. Kicking off Naomi's tournament schedule was the Western & Southern Open, which marked her first tournament of the pandemic. One day after its start though, Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The incident led to the Milwaukee Bucks deciding to protest an NBA playoff game, which in turn led to the entire league postponing games that day. Subsequently, teams from the WNBA, Major League Baseball, and Major League Soccer followed suit. And then so did Naomi as she chose to skip her match in honor of Jacob, "effectively withdrawing from her semifinal match and the tournament."
“I was playing my matches,” she recalled, “and I saw what the NBA was doing, and then I saw what Lewis Hamilton [the Formula One world champion] was saying, and then I was thinking to myself, Wow, tennis really doesn’t do this at all.”
Days after the Western & Southern, Naomi geared up for the U.S. Open and packed seven black masks, each emblazoned with the name of a Black American who was the victim of violence. “I was just thinking that I had this opportunity to raise awareness,” she explained of her decision to wear the masks before each match. “Tennis is watched all around the world, so people who might not know these names can google them and learn their stories. That was a big motivator for me, and I think it helped me win the tournament.”
Photo: Getty Images