Naomi Osaka reached the US Open semifinals after beating Shelby Rogers in straight sets at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday night.
Yet it wasn’t the win that nearly left her in tears while speaking with ESPN after the win. It was a special video message, one that had nothing to do with tennis.
Osaka gets call from Trayvon Martin’s mom, Ahmaud Arbery’s dad
Osaka has been wearing customized masks at each of her matches throughout the tournament in an effort to bring awareness to social injustice in the United States.
She started with a plain black mask with Breonna Taylor’s name written across the front, her way of honoring the former Louisville EMT who was shot and killed by police while she was sleeping in her apartment earlier this year.
Osaka brought seven different masks with different names on them to the tournament, and has been cycling through them as she continues through. She has also honored Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, Trayvon Martin before wearing one for George Floyd on Tuesday.
After her win, ESPN played a video message from Martin’s mom and Arbery’s dad — both of whom wanted to thank Osaka.
“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,” Sabrina Fulton, Martin’s mom, told Osaka. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
“Continue to do well, continue to kick butt at the US Open. Thank you.”
"I feel like I'm a vessel at this point in order to spread awareness."— espnW (@espnW) September 9, 2020
Trayvon Martin's mother and Ahmaud Arbery's father thanked Naomi Osaka for representing their sons on the masks she's been wearing throughout the US Open. pic.twitter.com/0IHBU7pvx4
Martin was shot and killed in Florida in 2012 by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman. Martin was 17 at the time, and Zimmerman was later acquitted of all charges.
“Naomi, I just want to tell you thank you for the support of my family, and God bless you for what you’re doing and you supporting our family and my son,” Marcus Arbery Sr. told Osaka. “My family really, really appreciates that. God bless you.”
Arbery was shot and killed in February while on a run in southern Georgia by two white men, Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis. He was 25. The men were arrested months later in June after video of the confrontation went viral.
Osaka — who was named the world’s highest-earning female athlete this year and is set to compete in her second US Open semifinals match in three years — is just the latest prominent figure in the sports world to speak out about racial injustice in recent months.
“It means a lot,” Osaka said after the messages, a bit at a loss for words. “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. Hopefully, it’s not going to dull the pain, but hopefully I can help with anything that they need.”
Osaka said later that she “was just trying really hard not to cry” while listening to Fulton and Arbery Sr. speak.
"For me, it's a bit surreal. It's extremely touching that they would feel touched by what I'm doing. For me, I feel like what I've doing is nothing. It's a speck of what I could be doing," Osaka said, via ESPN. "It was really emotional. ... I'm really grateful, and I'm really humbled."
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