Naomi Osaka has said she is “a vessel” to spread awareness of names of black lives that have been lost in the United States as part of her support to the Black Lives Matter movement at the US Open.
The fourth seed has been seen at the Major in New York sporting facemasks which had names of various black people she wanted to honour. By the time the US Open fortnight is over, Osaka had said she hoped to have honored the memory of six other victims of racial injustice.
The former champion was shown a video by ESPN after her quarter-final win against Shelby Rogers where messages were played from the families of Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin.
“I just want to say thank you to Naomi Osaka for representing Trayvon Martin on your customized mask and also for Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor,” Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, said in the first message that was shown on ESPN. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Continue to do well. Continue to kick butt at the US Open.”
Next up was Ahmaud Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, Sr., who added: “God bless you for what you’re doing and you supporting our family with my son. My family really, really appreciates that, and God bless you.”
Visibly moved by the messages, Osaka told ESPN: “It means a lot. I feel like – I don’t know. They’re so strong. I’m not sure what I would be able to do if I was in their position. I feel like I’m a vessel at this point in order to spread awareness and it’s not going to dull the pain, but hopefully, I can help with anything that they need.”
She then tweeted saying she was trying to hold the tears in on the set, but cried later.
Osaka arrived on court for her opening US Open game last week wearing a face mask bearing the name of Breonna Taylor, the African-American nurse shot dead by police who raided her apartment in Kentucky in March.
“For me, I just want to spread awareness,” Osaka said after her 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 win over Japanese compatriot Misaki Doi.
“I’m aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone that doesn’t know Breonna Taylor’s story. Maybe they’ll Google it or something. For me, just spreading awareness. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they’ll become in it.”
Osaka, of Haitian and Japanese heritage, had said she had six other masks bearing the names of black people killed by police that she hoped to wear throughout the Grand Slam.
“I have seven and it’s quite sad that seven is not enough for the amount of names,” Osaka had said.
“Hopefully I’ll get to the finals and you’ll see all of them.”
So far, she has been seen with masks bearing the name of Taylor, Elijah McClain, Arbery, Martin and George Floyd.
(With AFP inputs)