Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka holding up the U.S. Open championship trophy. The 2020 women’s singles winner used the international sports platform to raise awareness of violence against Black Americans. 

Serena Williams reacting during a quarterfinals match of the 2020 U.S. Open. Williams, a six-time Open singles winner, was eliminated during t…

Thousands of tennis fans flock to Flushing, New York, every year to see the best the sport has to offer in the U.S. Open. This year was different due to the pandemic, as no fans were allowed in the stadium.

Naomi Osaka wearing a mask bearing the name of George Floyd, one of seven face coverings she wore during the 2020 U.S. Open in support of Blac…

It is fitting that Arthur Ashe Stadium is the main stage of the tournament and the largest tennis stadium in the world. Ashe became the first (and still is the only) African American male tennis player to win the U.S. Open (1968) and the Wimbledon (1975) singles titles. He also was the first African American man to earn the No. 1 ranking in the world, and the first to earn induction into the Tennis Hall of Fame.

From Althea Gibson to Venus and Serena Williams and Coco Gauff, Black women have consistently been at the forefront of tennis. During the U.S. Open this year, Serena Williams became the first player ever to record an amazing 100 career wins in Arthur Ashe Stadium before being eliminated in the semifinals. The next winningest tennis player at the stadium is Roger Federer, who has 77 victories there.

This year it was Naomi Osaka gloriously holding the sterling silver trophy aloft after winning the women’s singles title. Osaka, a 22-year-old tennis superstar, is of Haitian and Japanese descent. She stepped into the tournament spotlight with social justice on her mind and covering her face – in each of her seven U.S. Open matches, Osaka wore a mask that displayed the name of a Black victim of racial injustice.

In her first match Osaka wore a face covering bearing Breonna Taylor’s name. Taylor was a 26-year-old Louisville EMT who was killed by three police officers back in March 2020 after they entered her home in a botched drug raid.

After wearing Taylor's name, Osaka revealed she had seven masks to wear throughout the tournament and had started with Taylor's name “because she was most important.”

It was Elijah McClain’s name emblazoned across Osaka’s mask during her second round match. McClain was a 23-year-old massage therapist that died after being placed in a chokehold by police and later sedated by paramedics in Aurora, Colorado.

In her third round match Osaka paid tribute to Ahmaud Arbery. Arbery was a 25-year-old unarmed Black man who was killed after being chased by two white men while jogging in Brunswick, Georgia. Arbery and one of the men, Travis McMichael, got in a scuffle and Arbery was shot three times.

Trayvon Martin – a 17-year-old Black teenager who was fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida, back in 2012 as he walked home from a convenience store carrying Skittles and an iced tea – was remembered by Osaka in her fourth round match.

In her quarterfinal matchup, a face covering memorializing George Floyd was worn by Osaka. Floyd was a 46-year-old unarmed Black man that died in Minneapolis after a white officer pinned him to the ground and kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. His death sparked protests across the U.S. and worldwide.

Osaka brought Philando Castile onto the court with her during the semifinals. Castile was a 32-year-old Black man who was fatally shot during a traffic stop in July 2016 by a Minnesota police officer.

In the championship round, it was Tamir Rice who accompanied Osaka to victory. Rice was a 12-year-old boy who was killed by police gunfire in Cleveland in November 2014 while he was holding a toy replica pistol.

After coming from behind to win the title, Osaka wasn't the only one who couldn't contain her excitement following her second U.S. Open win. Her boyfriend, Grammy Award-nominated artist Cordae, was in the stands and celebrated her triumph as well.

At the post-match interview with ESPN, Osaka was asked what message she was trying to send with the masks. She responded: “What’s the message you got, was more the question; I feel like the point is to make people start talking.”

Osaka was able to get people talking and spread awareness not only nationally but internationally.

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