Naomi Osaka is making a statement at the 2020 US Open in New York. The decorated tennis pro has donned different face masks to honor victims who’ve died as a result of racial injustice and police brutality.
Naomi Osaka is at the forefront of the fight against racial injustice and police brutality. Since the beginning of her 2020 US Open run — which began on August 31 in New York — she’s worn protective masks that featured the names: Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain. Each name represents the identity of a Black person who’s died at the hands of police. Learn more about Naomi, who’s emerged as one of tennis’ leading voices on issues of racism, equality and more.
Naomi Osaka wears a Trayvon Martin mask before a fourth round match against Anett Kontaveit, of Estonia, at the US Open tennis championships on September 6, 2020, in New York. (Photo credit: AP)
1. Naomi Osaka is a professional tennis player who represents Japan. — She started her professional career in 2013, despite playing at a young age. In 2016, she won “Newcomer of the Year” at the Women’s Tennis Association Awards. Naomi went on to win the 2018 US Open and the 2019 Australian Open. In March of 2018, Naomi became the first Japanese woman to win the Indian Wells Masters in California. The event is widely considered the second biggest event in tennis, right behind the Grand Slam. Naomi was the highest-earning female athlete in endorsement income in 2020.
2. She’s using her platform to inspire change and fight for racial justice. — Naomi has made it clear that her purpose is much bigger than just tennis. “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,” she said after she was surprised with video messages from Arbery and Martin’s families thanking her for her support.
“I just want to say thank you to Naomi Osaka for representing Trayvon Martin on your customized mask and also for Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor,” Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, said in a video message shared by ESPN — following Naomi’s win in the quarterfinal match of the US Open on September 8. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Continue to do well,” Fulton said, adding, “Continue to kick butt at the US Open.”
In a separate video message, Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, Sr., said “God bless you for what you’re doing and you supporting our family with my son. My family really, really appreciates that, and God bless you.”
Naomi plans on wearing a total of seven masks (the number of matches it takes to win the US Open) to feature those who’ve died as a result of racial injustice and police brutality.
Naomi Osaka wears a protective mask featuring the name George Floyd while arriving on court to face Shelby Rogers, of the United States, during the quarterfinal round of the US Open tennis championships on September 8, 2020, in New York. (Photo credit: AP)
3. Naomi is a strong proponent of the Black Lives Matter movement. — She has become a leader in social advocacy, especially within her sport. She joined the athlete protest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 23 (2020). After the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their NBA playoff game, Naomi announced on social media that she wouldn’t play in her semifinal match at the Western & Southern Open.
“Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman,” she wrote in an Instagram post about her decision on August 26 (2020). “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. 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.” As a result of her stance, the tournament paused play for the day her match was scheduled.
4. Naomi was born in Osaka, Japan and moved to New York at age 3. — Naomi was born on October 16, 1997, to a Japanese mother, Tamaki, and a Haitian father, Leonard Max Francois. After moving too Long Island, NY, Naomi made the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center grounds her second home. “I used to play here [in New York] when I was a little kid, so these courts aren’t new to me,” she told the US Open in 2018. “New York is very nostalgic. When I come here I always have memories of when I was a kid,” Naomi said, recalling, “Sometimes I walk down the streets I walked down when I was a little kid. Everything feels so much smaller. It’s an interesting feeling. But every time I come here, I’m very happy.”
Naomi Osaka wears a mask in honor of Breonna Taylor as she celebrates after defeating Misaki Doi, of Japan, during the first round of the US Open tennis championships on August 31, 2020, in New York. (Photo credit: AP)
5. She’s become a fashion icon. — Naomi has graced the covers of high-fashion/beauty magazines including, Allure. Additionally, she’s covered WSJ and ESPN magazines. The tennis star even has an impressive Instagram feed that contains a plethora of cool outfit photos.