Tennis star Naomi Osaka received an unexpected and emotional thank you Tuesday night from the families of some of the victims of police brutality and racial injustice whose legacies she is highlighting at the U.S. Open.
"God bless you for what you're doing and you supporting our family with my son," Arbery's father, Marcus Arbery, Sr., said in a video message played for Osaka on ESPN. "My family really, really appreciates that, and God bless you."
"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," said Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon's mother, in a separate video message. "We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Continue to do well. Continue to kick butt at the U.S. Open."
"I feel like I'm a vessel at this point in order to spread awareness."
Trayvon Martin's mother and Ahmaud Arbery's father thanked Naomi Osaka for representing their sons on the masks she's been wearing throughout the US Open. pic.twitter.com/0IHBU7pvx4— espnW (@espnW) September 9, 2020
At each of her matches at the Open, Osaka, 22, has worn a different face mask featuring the name of a person who has been a victim of racial injustice. On Tuesday, Osaka's face mask honored George Floyd, who died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him down and put his knee on his neck.
Osaka appeared visibly moved while watching the messages from Fulton and Arbery, Sr., and tweeted later that she cried while watching their messages again.
"I often wonder if what I’m doing is resonating and reaching as many people as I hope," she wrote. "That being said, I tried to hold it in on set but after watching these back I cried so much. The strength and the character both of these parents have is beyond me. Love you both, thank you."
I often wonder if what I’m doing is resonating and reaching as many people as I hope. That being said, I tried to hold it in on set but after watching these back I cried so much. The strength and the character both of these parents have is beyond me. Love you both, thank you ❤️ https://t.co/FSDLtWNJDr— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) September 9, 2020
After Osaka wore her mask featuring Trayvon's name at her fourth-round match, she tweeted about the impact of his death. Trayvon, 17, was killed Feb. 26, 2012, in Florida while walking home from a convenience store after neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman confronted and later shot him. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter in July 2013.
"I remember Trayvon’s death clearly. I remember being a kid and just feeling scared.I know his death wasn’t the first but for me it was the one that opened my eyes to what was going on," Osaka wrote on Twitter. "To see the same things happening over and over still is sad. Things have to change."
Osaka joined fellow athletes in protest last month after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was shot seven times by police in front of his children. The shooting sparked civil unrest in Blake's hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and across the country.
Osaka protested the shooting by not competing in an Aug. 27 scheduled semifinal match at the 2020 Western & Southern Open.
Osaka has said that she brought seven face masks with her to the U.S. Open, one for each match if she makes it through to the finals.
"It's quite sad that seven masks isn't enough for the amount of names, so hopefully I'll get to the finals so you can see all of them," said Osaka, according to The Associated Press. "I'm aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone that doesn't know Breonna Taylor's story. Maybe they'll, like, Google it or something."
"For me, [it's about] just spreading awareness," she added. "I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they'll become in it."