Naomi Osaka has been drawing attention to black victims of police brutality through her choice of face masks.
At the US Open, where Osaka won the women’s singles title in 2018, she wore a facial covering that featured the name of Breonna Taylor, who was shot to death by police in her own home.
Osaka, who won in the first round against Japan’s Misaki Doi on Monday, said that she arrived at the tournament with seven masks featuring the names of different victims of police violence, one for each round.
“I’m aware that tennis is watched all over the world and maybe there is someone that doesn’t know Breonna Taylor’s story,” she told the Washington Post. “For me [it’s] just spreading awareness. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they’ll become in it. It’s quite sad that seven masks isn’t enough for the amount of names.”
It’s one of the most politicised sartorial moments in women’s fashion on court since another woman of colour, Serena Williams, wore a black catsuit at the French Open in 2018. Williams’ outfit was criticised during the tournament and subsequently banned. “I believe we have sometimes gone too far,” said French tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli, “Serena’s outfit, for example, would no longer be accepted. You have to accept the game and the place.” Following his comments tennis legend Billie Jean King tweeted: “the policing of women’s bodies must end.”
Last week Osaka pulled out of her semi-final match at the Western & Southern Open in reaction to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in front of three of his children.
“As a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis,” Osaka tweeted. “I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction. Watching the continued genocide of black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach. I am exhausted at having a new hashtag pop up every few days and I’m extremely tired of having the same conversation over and over again.”
Osaka rejoined the tournament the following day, winning against Elise Mertens. She arrived at the match wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt.
Last month the 22-year-old, who has a Japanese mother and Haitian father and grew up in the US, spoke out the importance of using her platform. “I hate it when random people say athletes shouldn’t be involved with politics and just entertain,” she told WSJ magazine “Firstly, this is a human rights issue. Secondly, what gives you more right to speak than me? By that logic if you work at Ikea you are only allowed to talk about [furniture]?”