Naomi Osaka’s Silent Protest

We all know Venus and Serena, the dynamic sister duo who paved the way for Black women in tennis. Now we have a new generation of tennis players to look up to, and boy, are they coming in hot. Naomi Osaka, age 22, in particular, has already made a huge statement in her professional tennis career. A player who had never previously been a controversial figure in the media, she has recently received both praise and backlash for her support of Black Lives Matter. Her simple yet powerful act of wearing masks with the names of victims of racial violence only reinforces the importance of the movement that regained its momentum back in June after the killing of George Floyd. As an athlete, she is using her platform to bring awareness and facilitate conversations about police brutality. As a Black woman herself, she is showing her personal connection to the movement and showing her audience that BLM is not just a trend.

  1. 1. Who is Naomi Osaka and what did she do?

    Naomi Osaka, a half-Haitian, half-Japanese tennis player, has already broken boundaries as an athlete. She is not only the first Asian player to hold a top ranking from the Women’s Tennis Association but she is also the first player since 2001 to hold multiple Grand Slam singles titles at the same time. In addition, she was listed as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2019 in "Time Magazine." With great influence comes great responsibility, and it became clear when Osaka wore a mask with the name of a Black life lost for each round of the US Open that she supported her brothers and sisters.

    As all figures in the media do, Osaka received tons of backlash, especially from her home country. Many told her to stay in her lane as she encouraged protests by wearing her masks. She was well aware that she’d receive the response she did. In fact, it was her goal to get people talking. In her op-ed in "Esquire," Osaka wrote, “We can’t let the ignorance of the few hold back the progressiveness of the masses.” The recognition she received from Marcus Arbery, Sr. (father of Ahmaud Arbery), Sabrina Fulton (mother of Trayvon Martin), and Benjamin Crump (an attorney representing the families of multiple victims of police brutality and racially motivated violence) seemed to be the only opinions that mattered to Osaka.

  2. 2. What should other athletes be doing?

    Back in 2016, we saw Colin Kaepernick take a knee, outraging thousands who deemed it disrespectful. However, he created a wave of activism among athletes. It’s become a staple in all sports to take action and stand in solidarity against racism. We’ve seen steps taken by the National Basketball Association with “BLACK LIVES MATTER” written across basketball courts, the word “Vote” spelled out across athletes’ warm-up attire, and phrases like “Say Their Names” and “How Many More?” replacing athletes’ name on the backs of their jerseys.

    Although many see sports as a form of entertainment that should stay separate from politics, Osaka, Kaepernick and many others have made it clear that there is work to be done within the organizations they have dedicated their careers to.

    The truth is, athletes of all ages and backgrounds should be using their platforms to promote Black Lives Matter. White athletes must recognize the privilege they hold in their sport and stand with both their teammates and their competition. Only when we see legislation passed to promote racial equality and abandon the inherently racist system we’ve had in place since the beginning of our country’s history can athletes begin to step down. Just as we see athletes advertise sports drinks and endorse brands by wearing their apparel, we must see athletes keep BLM relevant in the media as it begins to lose national attention. Athletes must continue to promote racial equality as it is one of the best ways we can force the revolution to be televised.

  3. 3. What should we be doing?

    Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Philando Castile. These are all of the names shown on Osaka’s masks. Just as “Naomi Osaka” is a household name, make the names of all seven of these victims known. Know their names. Say their names. Honor the people they were, as well as the people they would be today. As we slowly make our way to November, the best way to show that we recognize the need for long-awaited justice is by registering to vote and showing up to the polls, whether it be in person or by mail. Listen to your Black friends, peers and colleagues and understand the current system that upholds inequality by educating yourself. Keep Black Lives Matter an everyday conversation among your friends and family. If you have been doing all of this already as I have, keep doing the work. Keep listening to your Black friends, keep supporting Black businesses, and continue to recognize your privilege every day.