After boycotting a previous tournament match to show her support for the victims of police violence, Naomi Osaka is taking more steps to raise awareness during the US Open.
The tennis star — who is currently the highest-paid female athlete in the world — took the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York on Friday night for her third-round matchup, sporting a black face mask emblazoned with the name “Ahmaud Arbery.”
“This did not have to happen, none of these deaths had to happen,” she told reporters ahead of her match, and victory, against Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk. “I just want everyone to know the names more.”
— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) September 4, 2020
The mask is Osaka’s third tribute to victims of police violence this week — at Monday’s first-round match, she wore a mask in honour of Breonna Taylor, and on Wednesday honoured Elijah McClain. Osaka told reporters that she brought seven different masks to the tournament — one for every stage of competition until the finals.
— ESPN (@espn) September 2, 2020
“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,” Osaka said on Monday.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 1, 2020
“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,” Osaka added. “For me, (it’s about) just spreading awareness. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they’ll become in it.”
The tennis star sat out her semifinal match at the Western & Southern Open last month, following the police shooting of Wisconsin man Jacob Blake in protest against racial injustice and “the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police.”
Naomi Osaka taking the court in a mask & a Black Lives Matter T-shirt. pic.twitter.com/rCQXuvU0Rx
— Live Tennis (@livetennis) August 28, 2020
“Before I am an athlete, I am a Black woman. 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,” Osaka wrote a statement posted to her social media accounts on Wednesday.
“Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach,” continued the athlete, who grew up in the United States, but represents her mother’s home country of Japan in international competition. “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?”
“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 added.
However, Osaka ultimately to returned to the event to defeat Elise Mertens in the rescheduled semifinal match, before pulling out of the final match due to injury.
“I was (and am) ready and prepared to concede the match to my opponent,” she said in a statement prior to her semifinal. “However, after my announcement and lengthy consultation with the WTA and USTA, I have agreed at their request to play on Friday. They offered to postpone all matches until Friday and in my mind that brings more attention to the movement. I want to thank the WTA and the Tournament for their support.”
Osaka joined many major athletes with her decision to sit out from major competitions in protest. Milwaukee Bucks players didn’t take the court for Game 5 of their first-round NBA playoff series against the Orlando Magic, which led to a league-wide boycott and rescheduling of finals games and the announcement of new social justice and voting initiatives by the league. Players from the WNBA, MLB, MLS and more also boycotted competition in solidarity.
See more on the continued protests in the video below.