September 13, 2020
Wearing masks to highlight racial inequality shows the type of mental strength that glues the US Open winner’s game together
Naomi Osaka proves herself a champion on and off the court | Tumaini Carayol
Naomi Osaka is unlikely to forget her past three weeks. She stopped the Tennis world for a day after she refused to compete at the Western & Southern Open. She marched into her seven matches with masks bearing the names of Black people unjustly killed by police and civilians. She has patiently answered upwards of 100 English and Japanese questions about her reasons for doing so. She has been consistent and clear throughout, yet still, standing in Arthur Ashe Stadium as the newly crowned US Open champion, she was asked to explain her message once more. Her response: “Well, what was the message you got?”
It was a fitting end. Before the event, Osaka was unsure of what the outcome of her amplifying police violence and anti-Black killings would be, yet her actions have challenged journalists to cover anti-Black racism in the same breath they cover her relatively unimportant matches. She has inadvertently held a mirror up to the sport itself, exposing cluelessness on racial issues even as a record 12 Black players populated the women’s singles draw. After her quarter-final win, an interviewer gleefully explained how she was guessing the name of the next (dead) person to appear on her mask every day. Later on in the week, her activism was pitted against Serena Williams as she asked to comment on why Williams, who once boycotted a tournament for 14 years because of racism, had not “made any statements or support of the movement.”
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