Bigger Than Tennis

Throughout the U.S. Open, the champion, Naomi Osaka, wore seven masks with the names of police brutality victims on them, hoping to bring more awareness to them.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Cover Image
By Susannah Ahn

Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile, and Tamir Rice. Those are the seven Black victims of police brutality or racially motivated attacks whose names were written on the masks worn by Naomi Osaka, the 2020 U.S. Open Champion, as she walked onto the court for each of her matches. In doing so, she hoped to bring more attention to the Black Lives Matter movement that has been in the spotlight for the past few months and became one of the many athletes to speak out about the racial injustices and police brutality toward Black people. Given one of the biggest platforms in the world, Osaka made a powerful statement on racial injustice.

Protests across sports supporting the Black Lives Matter movement have put the danger of police brutality and systemic racism in the spotlight. Osaka was disgusted that though all seven of the men and women whom she honored on her masks were killed by the police, only one of these cases resulted in a murder charge. The officers that ended the young lives of these victims still walk free—off the hook. Osaka noted that seven masks are nowhere near enough to account for those who have been harmed by police brutality. The feeling of unrest surrounding the continuing oppression of Black people in this country ultimately led to her decision to wear these masks at the U.S. Open.

This action by Osaka touched many hearts, including the families of Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery. Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin's mother, and Marcus Arbery Sr., Ahmaud Arbery's father, videotaped a message thanking her for her activism and showing their support. Osaka responded saying: "It means a lot. I feel like 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." Despite influencing many around the world, she mentioned that she feels as if she is doing so little in the larger context of all the protests. Osaka added that she is glad that what she is doing is making an impact and will continue to bring awareness to the topic.

These masks haven’t been the only way Osaka has protested. In addition to being very vocal on social media, the young prodigy boycotted her Western and Southern Open semifinals match, a tournament she participated in throughout the month of August. After the shooting of Jacob Blake, she explained her decision on Instagram, saying: “Before I am an athlete, I am a Black woman. And 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…If I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport, I consider that a step in the right direction.”

The event ultimately postponed all games on that day, saying that “tennis is collectively taking a stance against racial inequality and social injustice that once again has been thrust to the forefront of the United States.” Osaka played a huge role in that “thrust to the forefront,” achieving what she set out to do by starting the conversation within her sport.

Now more than ever, our country is defined by our social justice issues, and more importantly, how we handle them. Celebrities, politicians, and athletes alike have demonstrated an outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and tennis star Naomi Osaka is no exception. The U.S. Open winner has set an example for athletes and humans everywhere by fighting for what she believes in and attempting to make a difference within her field.