U.S. Open champ brings Black Lives Matter mask protest to the tennis court

The 2020 U.S.Open began yesterday and runs through September 13. For however long she lasts in the two-week tournament, Naomi Osaka will wear a black face mask with the name of a person who was shot by police. She is bringing the Black Lives Matter protests to the U.S. Open.

Naomi Osaka is a champion tennis player. She is the 2018 U.S. Open champion, 2019 Australian Open champion, and the first Asian to claim the world’s number one ranking in tennis. She is young – only 22 years old. She’s decided to take a stand for the Black Lives Matter movement. During her first-round match on Monday, she wore a black face mask bearing the name of Breonna Taylor. She came prepared with seven such masks in case she lasts through the U.S. Open competition.

“I’m aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone that doesn’t know Breonna Taylor’s story,” Osaka, the No. 4 seed in the tournament, told reporters after her 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 victory over Misaki Doi. “Maybe they’ll Google it or something. For me, [it’s] just spreading awareness. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they’ll become in it.”

“It’s quite sad that seven masks isn’t enough for the amount of names,” said Osaka, the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open champion. “Hopefully I’ll get to the finals and you can see all of them.”

It looks like the young woman who says she fights shyness is ready to be a social justice warrior in America. Osaka was born in Japan to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother. She has lived and trained in the United States since she was three years old. Just last week she made headlines as a sports star who walked away from a game in the name of social justice and Jacob Blake. She said, “I felt like I needed to raise my voice.”

Last week, Osaka was one of a number of athletes across the NBA and other sports who opted not to compete after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha, Wis., police officer. She refused to play in a semifinal of the Western & Southern Open and agreed to continue after the tournament shut down for a day. She won Friday and ended up pulling out of Saturday’s final against Victoria Azarenka because of a hamstring injury.

Typically, tennis isn’t a sport with a lot of controversies. Usually, the headlines come from the behavior of players – including Serena Williams who behaved badly as Osaka won the 2018 title. Osaka went on Twitter to accuse the police of genocide against black people.

“As a Black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis,” Osaka tweeted Aug. 26. “I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction. Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach.”

Genocide? Perhaps she doesn’t understand the meaning and implication of that charge, or maybe she does and thinks by grossly exaggerating a social problem is a way to be noticed. There are not more black Americans shot than white or other racial groups but since African-Americans only constitute 13% of the population in America, statistically they are disproportionately affected.

According to a Washington Post analysis, black Americans are disproportionately affected by police violence across the United States. The data refers specifically to police shootings and it relies primarily on news accounts, social media postings and police reports. Since January 01, 2015, 4,728 people have died in police shootings and around half, 2,385, were white. 1,252 were black, 877 were Hispanic and 214 were from other racial groups. As a share of the population, however, things are very different. Black Americans account for less than 13% of the U.S. population but the rate at which they are shot and killed by police is more than twice as high as the rate for white Americans.

She is the highest-earning female athlete, according to Forbes, which puts her among the ranks of other privileged professional athletes who are coopting sports into vehicles for political statements. How nice for her and for the others that they can do so in a country with free speech guarantees. They can afford to take off a game here and there to make statements and then go back to playing when they feel like it. The ones that lose are the fans who lose the chance to see their favorite athletes play – the ones that help them achieve such financial freedom and power. She’s just joining the crowd.

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