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One of the most impactful statements of 2020 was mostly a silent one.
As she pursued and won her second U.S. Open championship in three years, Naomi Osaka wore a different black face mask to the courts at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, each of them printed with the name of a Black American killed either by police or by vigilantes.
The 23-year-old was doing her part to keep the names of those seven at the forefront of our consciousness, nor forget the fact that none have received justice.
Had the tournament been twice as long, she easily could have had 15 different masks, so pervasive is the scourge of violence against Black bodies, usually for simply being born Black.
As a Japanese-Haitian woman who has spent much of her life in America, the color of her beautiful skin deepened from sunny hours on tennis courts, she knows how she is perceived, and she knows how everyone that looks like her is perceived, particularly in this country.
Home during the pandemic and unable to practice regularly and compete, Osaka like so many of us found ways to occupy her time, her social media feeds documenting her time at her southern California home, a mix of bathing suit poses and sheepish selfies.
During that time Osaka also watched George Floyd killed under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and she began using her platform even more for those who look like her but lack her influence. Marching in Minneapolis with boyfriend Cordae Dunston and donating her money to causes were good, but Osaka wanted to do more.
She initially decided to boycott the Western & Southern Open semifinals in August, following the NBA and WNBA players who refused to play in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting in Wisconsin, though it’s a signal of her growing power within her sport that the tournament simply went dark instead, pushing everything back a day.
And then came the U.S. Open, the face masks necessitated by a pandemic, and honoring the memories of those Black men and women, necessitated by the violence that is never far away.
Osaka’s silent statement had everyone talking.
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