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Osaka brings change to be heard by international audience, mask after mask

Naomi Osaka, the professional tennis player who represents Japan, is getting noticed, not only for her innate tennis talent but also because of the way she stepped into the Arthur Ashe Stadium yesterday. She stepped into the field ready for the match wearing a mask that read “Elijah McClain” ahead of her second-round U.S. Open victory on Wednesday, harnessing tennis’s global appeal in her fight for racial justice.

Osaka has been ranked No. 1 by the Women's Tennis Association and is the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles. She has won five titles on the WTA Tour, including two titles at both the Grand Slam and Premier Mandatory levels, but that’s only part of who she is. \

Naomi Osaka of Japan hits balls into the stands following her match against Camila Giorgi of Italy on day three of the 2020 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Image Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

The 22-year-old player believes in what is currently happening around the globe, supporting massive protests to achieve racial equality in many countries. As a sign of support, she honoured McClain, the 23-year-old Black man who died after a violent encounter with Aurora, Colorado, police officers in 2019 by wearing a mask with his name on it.

“I think tennis - people watch it all around the world,” she said in a televised interview after her match. “Things that we think (are) common names (are) probably not common overseas.”

She had previously worn a mask honouring Breonna Taylor, the Black woman brutally murdered by police officers who burst into her apartment in March, at her first-round match on Monday, and said she had seven different masks with her at the tournament.

“When I heard about his story it was very hurtful,” Osaka later told reporters, when asked about McClain. In a lawsuit filed last month against the city of Aurora and its police, McClain’s family alleged he was tackled by police officers during an encounter despite presenting no physical threat.

Naomi Osaka wore a mask bearing the name of Breonna Taylor for her US Open first round match. Image credit AP/Sportstar - The Hindu

“I still don’t think his name is very put out there compared to, like, George Floyd or Breonna Taylor. For me, today was very special in the way that I wanted to represent him very well,” she explained.

The fourth-seeded Osaka, who has seen her platform grow with her success on the court, sent shockwaves through her sport when she announced last week that she would forego her Western & Southern Open semi-final in protest of police brutality and racial injustice in the United States.

“I feel like the platform I have right now is something I used to take for granted,” she concluded.


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