An athlete, a social justice warrior…

A role model for our generation.

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@naomiosaka

After each match at the U.S. Open, Osaka posted a photo of her walking onto the court with the mask and the name that she wore. On every post except this one, she didn’t leave a caption. Osaka said, “Actually I have a lot to say about this. I remember Trayvon’s death clearly. I remember being a kid and just feeling scared, irreverent info but I actually didn’t wear hoodies for years cause I wanted to decrease the odds of “looking suspicious”. I know his death wasn’t the first, but for me it was the one that opened my eyes to what was going on. I remember watching the events unfold on tv and wondering what was taking so long, why was justice not being served. To see the same things happening over and over still is sad. Things have to change.”

Naomi Osaka: the female championship athlete of our generation. At the age of 22 in 2019, she was the highest-paid female athlete in the world. The Associated Press’s Female Athlete of 2020. A four-time Grand Slam winner as of Feb. 20 when she beat American Jennifer Brady in the Australian Open, continuing a 21 match winning streak.

Osaka is most notably known for beating Serena Williams three times in straight sets, one of which was her first Grand Slam win and has been titled by ESPN as the “most controversial U.S. Open final in history.” During the match, Williams and the chair umpire verbally argued, turning the focus away from Osaka’s victory and to their discourse. The crowd, who largely supported Williams, booed at Osaka as she broke down and cried during and after the match. Osaka is also known for inviting teenager Coco Gauff to the on-court interview in the third round of the 2019 U.S. Open. The on-court interview is usually reserved for the winning player and is fairly unusual for the player who lost to join. As Gauff began to leave the court crying, Osaka encouraged her to share how she felt to the thousands of fans cheering for her.

Osaka, born in Tokyo to Haitian and Japanese parents, is also known for effectively shutting down professional tennis for 24 hours and wearing seven black masks bearing people’s names killed by racial violence. In protest of Jacob Blake’s death, Osaka dropped out of the Western & Southern Open semifinal, prompting the United States Tennis Association, the Association of Tennis Professionals, and the Women’s Tennis Association to pause all play at the tournament on Aug. 27.

I think that her wearing the masks and dropping matches were beautiful statements, both were powerful and got her point across. […] She is someone who enjoys all aspects of life, from cooking, to fashion, etcetera. which reflects a spirit that I, and I hope others can really look up towards.”

— Junior Nan Besse

Junior Nan Besse said, “I think that activism within any field is important, especially since sports has long been a field that is male,white-dominated. To me, sports aren’t any different than science or math in the sense that all of these fields should be more diverse and inclusive, regardless of any preconceived notions. I know while some people prefer to distinguish sports from activism to me, that’s just adding to the problem. See, you can’t just try and “cherry-pick” when you/those around you, decide to talk about social justice.”

Walking into every 2020 U.S. Open match, Osaka wore a different mask, each stating the name of a person killed by racial violence. She prepared them as a response to the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests that followed George Floyd’s murder. In an interview with AP News, prompted by her victory of becoming the female athlete of 2020, Osaka said, “It was sad to watch and read the news of people suffering from COVID-19, and the economic and social effect on so many – losing jobs, mental health. It was such a tough year for so many people. And then watching the police injustices like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake (to name just a few) in the summer broke my heart. I am proud of my U.S. Open victory, but more so that I got people talking about the real issues.” Osaka forced every viewer of the U.S. Open to read the names of seven people killed by racist violence. Breonna Taylor. Trayvon Martin. George Floyd. Philando Castile. Tamir Rice. Ahmaud Arbery. Elijah McClain. After Osaka won the 2020 U.S. Open, the on-court interviewer asked what message she wanted to send with the masks. Osaka responded, “Well, what was the message that you got?” Following her question to the interview, she said, “I feel like the point is to make people start talking.”

Junior Kishori Patel said, “I thought it was really important for her to do something like [wearing the masks], especially with the platform she has where not only the entire country can see that but whoever tunes in pretty much. Even two of the names that appeared on those masks were Philando Castiel and George Floyd, two people who were brutally murdered in our home state of Minnesota.”

Ranked second in the world, Osaka is an incredible tennis player. While her personality is often described as introverted, she forced millions of people to learn the names of people killed by racial violence. Besse said, “Osaka is truly an amazing woman, and I’ve honestly come to see her as a sort of role model. I think that her wearing the masks and dropping matches were beautiful statements, both were powerful and got her point across. In addition, hearing about Osaka’s life outside of tennis is equally inspiring. She is someone who enjoys all aspects of life, from cooking, to fashion, etcetera, which reflects a spirit that I, and I hope others can really look up towards.”

Osaka is not only the name of a top athlete in the world but the name of a top social justice activist and a role model for our generation.