Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka has just secured her second US Opens single title. And in each of her seven victories, she wore masks to the court bearing the names of Black people who were victims of police violence.
For her final game on Saturday, Osaka wore a mask bearing the name of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed in Cleveland by a white police officer in 2014. “The point is to make people start talking,” Osaka said at the award ceremony.
Osaka initially boycotted the semifinals of the tournament to protest police brutality in solidarity with athletes in professional basketball, baseball, and soccer in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake. She was the only tennis player to do so.
“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.” In a statement posted on Twitter in English and Japanese, the player announced that she would not be competing in the semifinal as scheduled.
Osaka named Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and George Floyd at the end of her note, all Black people who — with the exception of Blake, who survived being shot Sunday night — died following fatal interactions with police officers.
"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," she wrote.
Following Osaka's decision, organizers of the WTA Western & Southern Open suspended the tournament for a week. "As a sport, tennis is collectively taking a stance against racial inequality and social injustice that once again has been thrust to the forefront in the United States," the statement said.
Like many athletes in the current political climate, Osaka is illustrating the power of individual protest in changing industries and bringing issues of social justice to a wider audience. However, for Osaka, this shift is a relatively new one.
In an interview with Highsnobiety, she explained that up until the death of George Floyd she "didn’t think people cared about [her] opinion." The political moment we are in right now has inspired her to do more than just "stick to sports."
You can read our full interview with Naomi Osaka here.