Naomi Osaka Serves Up Justice Both On And Off The Court


Hayden Thompson, Reporter

On Saturday, September 12, tennis phenom, Naomi Osaka, 22, won the 2020 US Open Women’s Singles Final against Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka 1-6, 6-3, 6-3. Prior to each match, she wore a different face mask with the name of a different Black life lost at the hands of police brutality or other acts of racial violence. By the end of the tournament, she sported seven masks total- honoring seven different lives and stories.  

“It’s quite sad that seven masks isn’t enough for the amount of names,” Osaka said after her first-round victory, “so hopefully I’ll get to the finals and you can see all of them.” She did exactly that.

Osaka, of Japanese and Haitian heritage, said that the coronavirus lockdown, which occurred at the same time as protests against instances of police brutality, including the police killing of George Floyd, allowed her time to reflect and led to her political awakening. She told reporters, “The quarantine definitely gave me a chance to think a lot about things — what I want to accomplish, what I want people to remember me by. I came into this tournament, or these two tournaments, with that mindset.”

She walked onto the court for her first match at the US Open wearing a mask bearing the name Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was killed when police shot her while asleep in her own apartment in March of 2020.

Osaka donned masks honoring Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, and Philando Castile in her following matches. 

In Saturday’s final, she honored Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy who was shot dead by a white police officer in Cleveland, Ohio in 2014.

Osaka wearing her mask to honor Tamir Rice prior to her US Open Finals match


What started off as a one-woman protest, developed into Osaka gaining a wave of support from fans online. Over 100,000 people retweeted her, and between Twitter and Instagram, almost 650,000 people liked her post. Osaka received recognition for both her win and movement from celebrities like Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and former first lady of the United States Michelle Obama. 

On the global stage, Osaka’s message reached fans over 6,000 miles away in her homeland of Japan. A Japanese news company, The Mainichi, borrowed a phrase from Osaka’s victory interview to ask young people around Hachiko Square in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, “What was the message that you got?” People responded with answers like “equality” “self belief”, and “speak up without fear of criticism,” all showing that young people in Japan, too, are responding to her protest. 

The 5-foot-11 young star continues to write her own story with each victory, and uses her platform to share powerful messages. You can catch this baseline blaster when she competes in her next Grand Slam tournament and internationally for Japan.