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On Friday, the 22-year-old tennis star wore a face mask with Ahmaud Arbery's name on it as she beat her opponent Marta Kostyuk in the third round of the New York tournament. Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was chased down and fatally shot by two white men while jogging through his Georgia neighborhood in February.
"I would like everyone to know that it was completely avoidable — this did not have to happen," Osaka told reporters of Arbery's death following the match. "None of these deaths had to happen. I just want everyone to know the names."
Osaka has worn a different mask with a different name during each round of the tennis tournament so far and has told reporters that she has one for all seven rounds, should she continue to win.
"This did not have to happen, none of these deaths had to happen ... I just want everyone to know the names more."@naomiosaka continues to use her platform to spread awareness ✊🏿 pic.twitter.com/usyED4fi9m— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 4, 2020
"I actually have seven, and it's quite sad that seven masks isn't enough for the amount of names, so hopefully I'll get to the finals and you can see all of them," she said following her win during round one, for which she wore a mask with Breonna Taylor’s name to honor the 26-year-old Black EMT who was killed in March in her home by Louisville Metro Police.
During the second round, Osaka’s mask had the name of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who went into a coma and died after being placed in a chokehold by Aurora, Colorado, police last August.
In her post match interview, she said wearing the masks was a way to use her platform to spread knowledge of police brutality and racism not just in the U.S., but across the world.
Frank Franklin/AP/Shutterstock Naomi Osaka
“I think tennis, people watch it all around the world and things that we think are common names are probably not common overseas,” the 2018 U.S. Open champion said. “For me I just want people to have more knowledge. I feel like the platform that I have right now is something that I used to take for granted and I just feel like I should be using it for something.”
Following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, Osaka was among many athletes to boycott their respective sports. Blake, 29, was shot in the back by police officers on Aug. 23 in front of three of his children. His family said that he has been paralyzed from the waist down.
"Hello, as many of you are aware I was scheduled to play my semifinals match tomorrow," Osaka wrote on Twitter, announcing her decision to pull out of her semifinals match at the 2020 Western & Southern Open. "However, 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."
"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 explained. "Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach. I'm exhausted of having a new hashtag pop up every few days and I'm extremely tired of having this same conversation over and over again. When will it ever be enough?"
Several hours after her post, the tournament announced it was pausing play for a day.
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
- Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
- ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
- National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.