Naomi Osaka has had the attention and publicity for some time. However, right now she is probably the most talked about tennis player and it really does not have to do with her tennis as tremendous as she is on court having been world No.1 and won two majors. It has everything to do with the political stands she has been taking this year in relation to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
She made a trip to Minnesota when the whole movement erupted after the killing of George Floyd and more recently used her voice to do the talking following the shooting of Jacob Blake Jr. which has left him paralysed. As the news has well documented the shootings like so many others of note in the USA have been at the hands of police.
Miss Osaka posted on her social media pages: “… Watching the continued genocide of black people at the hand of police is honestly making me sick to my stomach. I’m exhausted of having a new hashtag pop up every few days and I’m extremely tired of having this same conversation over and over again. When will it ever be enough?”
Naomi Osaka is the daughter of a Japanese mother and Haitian born father and she is a black woman. What has been happening in the USA has hit her hard; she may play for Japan, but she lives in the USA and has done so since the age of three. She sees it all firsthand and no doubt wonders if she or someone close to her, or someone she knows could suddenly become a victim.
It would be a very relevant fear because it has happened to at least one player and someone I know very well.
In 2015 during the US Open, James Blake, now Tournament Director of the Miami Open and one of the nicest and most laid back people you could hope to meet was tackled and handcuffed by a New York policeman for no apparent reason at all. James was outside one of the official tournament hotels in Manhattan, waiting for tournament transport. The policeman claimed it was mistaken identity and eventually got off.
While it was bad enough, it could have been drastically worse. Not long ago JB revealed that he remains shaken by the incident. Incidents such as those relating to Floyd and recently his namesake, Blake, causes a reliving of what happened to him in New York and likely leaves him feeling even more vulnerable; more so having the same name as the man in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Rising American star Coco Gauff has had her voice heard as well in support of BLM but when Naomi Osaka took a leaf out of the NBA’s book and decided she was not going to play the following day, the day of her Cincinnati semi-final, the attention grew. That prompted the ATP, WTA and USTA to pause play at the tournament and Miss Osaka felt that sent out a greater message than her not playing so she reconsidered and took to the court.
“I don't feel like I'm being brave, I just feel like I'm doing what I should be doing,” she said. “Yeah, so honestly, when people say courageous or anything, I don't really resonate that well with it. I just feel like - not common sense, but this is what I'm supposed to be doing in this moment.
“I would just say there's a lot of pressure I put on myself, and of course I feel like now there is another reason for me to want to win, but I feel like I have to reel back all those emotions and just focus on what I train for.”
She says the attention her stand received and the additional attention that was focused on her came as a massive surprise. She thought it would “make the rounds in the tennis circle” instead it went way further, and she admitted that it has been a “bit frightening”.
“I feel like players are using their voice more, especially Coco and I love her for that,” Miss Osaka said. “She seems to be taking charge both on and off the court, so it’s really nice to see. I feel like maybe this generation of tennis players won’t be too scared of the consequences of saying things on their mind. That would be really nice to see.”
The quarantine period tennis went through allowed Miss. Osaka the opportunity to consider her social and political voice. What she wants to express and to take a stand on injustices. It seems the reflection has seen her become a more mature and confident woman. She likes being in that sort of position and to be able to express her views.
“I think the biggest thing for me is to lessen the amount of regrets that I have,” she said. “I feel like definitely during quarantine, the biggest thing I thought was, when I get out of this, I want to grow as a person, and I don't want to have that many regrets going forward.
“I'm not sure if it's a light bulb or if there was any particular moment that, like, sparked me to speak up, but I do feel like it's been building for a while. I honestly follow people more. I don’t know. I like looking at the blueprint of how someone got somewhere, and I try to emulate that. So, it was a bit odd for me to try to be the first one to do this, but I'm glad that it was received well.”