At 23 years of age, Naomi Osaka is a pearl of an athlete that has made the world her oyster.
And while her star has been soaring for some time now, 2020 (with all of its ups and downs) has afforded her a level of superstardom in her field and a voice of advocacy that the Gen-Zer could not have imagined — even in her wildest dreams.
— The Shadow League (@ShadowLeague) August 13, 2020
Despite winning her third Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open, she has used her platform to bring awareness to social injustice, push for an end of police-involved violence and sound off on the world’s need for diversity and inclusion. As a young woman of Haitian and Japanese descent, who has been directly impacted by the crisis that people of color have been experiencing all year, she had to make a stand.
The world seemed to stop when she decided to boycott and forfeit her Western & Southern Open semifinal match after Jacob Blake was shot by police in Kenosha, WI.
The tournament was the first event to happen and was a big deal in the tennis world. But she believed that it was a high disrespect to the cause to not at least pause in solidarity with those most affected by the discrimination. Osaka’s act of protest proved to make a difference. Using her position as a star of the game and a multicultural face of tennis, her speaking out forced the tournament directors to pause play for the day.
“It was difficult to be isolated from my family for large parts of the year, but that’s nothing compared to others,” Osaka told the outlet.
“It was sad to watch and read the news of people suffering from COVID-19, and the economic and social effect on so many — losing jobs, mental health. It was such a tough year for so many people.”
“And then watching the police injustices like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake (to name just a few) in the summer broke my heart. I am proud of my U.S. Open victory, but more so that I got people talking about the real issues,” she continues.
She was not alone, nor did she let the accolades that are associated with young people who speak out and are celebrated for being “positive” go to her head.
She partnered with other voices to connect commerce, culture, and community activism. In a Beats by Dre campaign called “Silence is Violence,” she worked with Hip-Hop rappers Flo Milli and her long-time boyfriend Cordae to create powerful visuals that encourage others to speak out.
In her short film, she is seen stretching before going into sport, and as she walks towards the public court, with a soundtrack of empowerment blasting in back of her, the camera catches her waist-length braids that have “Silence is Violence” in white and black beads.
Affirmational on so many levels, she epitomized Black girl magic — rocking the taboo braids that little mamas all over the country are being ostracized for wearing. She … in one swift swoop of her racket and swaying individuals … has nacreated.
Don’t believe us, ask Sports Illustrated that named her the Sportsperson of the Year. “The Sports Illustrated Awards” (The SI Awards) welcomed five Sportsperson of The Year honorees: LeBron James, Osaka, Patrick Mahomes, Stewie, and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.
In a year where so many activist athletes made sacrifices and fought for an end to systemic racism and police brutality, Osaka’s wearing seven masks in seven matches with the names of Black victims of deadly racism prominently featured on them, left an indelible mark on the consciousness of America.
In many ways, she is following in the footsteps of other Tennis sheroes like Serena and Venus Williams. She is also in the footsteps of Ella Baker, Ruby Dee, Michelle Obama, and names that you will never ever know.
And yes, Osaka’s 2020 was just as impactful as another mixed race (Black and Asian) woman, Kamala Harris who is out making world herstory.
And with the legions of great women rooting for her (including those ancestors whose shoulders she stands upon), her 2021 might just be even more phenomenal as she continues her rise as one of the top queens of women’s tennis and a Gen-Z voice in the fight against oppression.