Naomi Osaka’s first sign was an Instagram story from protest against George Floyd’s death.
Osaka and her boyfriend Cordae flew to Minneapolis to protest the death of Floyd, a black man killed by a police officer who kneed on his neck for seven minutes, 46 seconds.
“My heart ached. It was a call to me to act. In an article she wrote for Esquire, “Enough was finally enough.”
The 22-year old has been a bright and talented tennis player since her debut. She is now a quiet, confident woman who doesn’t seem to mind being in the spotlight.
After winning the 2018 Indian Wells title, the soft-spoken Japanese player described herself as “most awkward” in tennis. She also gave what she called the “worst acceptance speech” of all time.
Many people were impressed by Osaka’s speech. It was a charming, funny, and self-deprecating monologue. However, Osaka is rarely comfortable speaking in front large audiences. She would often move awkwardly in her chair at news conferences before she gave short answers or made references to Pokemon.
However, that does not mean that the three-time Grand Slam champion was without a strong voice. He won the US Open on Saturday for the second time.
The world is only now beginning to hear it.
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Osaka was the daughter of a Japanese mother Tamaki and a Haitian father Leonard. She was born in Tokyo, the city with whom she shares her surname. Her family moved to New York at the age of three.
She discussed in her Esquire article how her multicultural background has made it difficult for her to be defined.
“I am a daughter, sister, friend, and girlfriend. I am Asian, black, and female. I am a normal 22-year old, but I’m also a good tennis player. She wrote, “I’ve accepted myself as I am: Naomi Osaka.”
In recent months, another label was attached to her: activist.
Osaka withdrew from her Western and Southern Open semi finals on the eve the US Open in protest against the Wisconsin police shooting of Jacob Blake (a black man).
The entire tournament was forced to “pause” because of her protest, along with other sports stars from America.
Osaka stated, “Before my athlete status, I was a black woman.” “And as a black women, I feel like there are more important matters that require immediate attention than just watching me play tennis.”
Every match she won prior to Saturday’s final was another opportunity to display her name. Wim Fissette her coach said that it gave her the motivation she needed to succeed.
The Belgian said that it was “definitely helping her and giving them more energy.”
She wants to be a role-model off court, and she knows that it must go along with being a role-model on court. It’s a great combination.
Fissette took over as Osaka’s coach from American Jermaine Johnson in December.
Osaka, Jenkins, and her team were last summer in the United Kingdom to play on grass courts and prepare for a Women’s Tennis Association tournament at Birmingham.
They watched When They See Us together on Netflix. Based on the true story about five Harlem teenagers, the drama tells the story of their brutal attack on a Central Park teen.
Jenkins believes this was a crucial moment for Osaka in realizing she could use her voice more.
The now-national coach of the United States Tennis Association said, “I felt that Naomi and everyone had a different perspective and view on how black men are treated in America.”
“That really touched her heart. It is impossible to watch that without crying. She was really upset and we talked about it. It makes me proud to watch her become the advocate she is.
Osaka’s use of her platform as one the most prominent sports stars in the world is raising awareness and inspiring her fellow players to do the same.
Osaka said she was proud of Stefanos Tsitsipas, the Greek world number six, for asking more questions on racial inequality.
Osaka stated that she had announced her decision not to play at the Western Open and Southern Open because she wanted to “get a conversation started” in a predominantly white sport.
Tennis is a very small sport and many people will not understand the racism of black people.
This is why Osaka’s former coach, Sascha Baijin was widely criticized for posting a post on social media after Floyd’s passing where he stated that “colour isn’t an issue in Europe”.
Osaka has, however, a unique reach because of her American, Haitian, and Japanese heritage.
She also wrote in her Esquire article about how it can be difficult to tackle racism in Japan. Osaka was whitewashed by her sponsor in Japan last year in a cartoon advertisement.