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7 Masks 7 Names

How Naomi Ōsaka spread awareness on racial injustice during the US Open.

by Alessandra Puglisi

Picture from the US Open official Twitter account.

The US Open women’s final came to an end on Saturday the 12th of September with a thrilling match between Naomi Ōsaka and Victoria Azarenka. It was a much-awaited return on the scene for the 31-year-old Belarusian athlete Azarenka, but it was number three of the world Ōsaka to steal the show with a dazzling victory.

The 22-year-year old Japanese champion collected her third Grand Slam trophy after fighting for more than two hours on the big stage, but winning was not the only thing that Naomi Ōsaka did on the tournament.

Since the beginning of the Grand Slam, the young tennis star has entered each of the games sporting masks with the names of several victims of racial injustice and police brutality in America. As she vowed not to be silent on the matter, Ōsaka featured the names of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice.

Picture from the US Open official Twitter account.

It is not the first time that Naomi Ōsaka has been outspoken about her support for the BLM movement and her desire to highlight racial issues.

During the Western & Southern Open in August, the Japanese athlete decided to retire from the tournament before the semi-final match following the shooting of Jacob Blake, arguing that athletes should not stay out of politics and human rights issues.

At the US Open, the three-time Grand Slam winner said that she had seven masks, one for each round to play, stating that “It’s quite sad that seven masks isn't enough for the amount of names.” She then went on hoping to reach the final so people could see them all.

During a press conference, previous to the final game, she also spoke her view on raising awareness on the events occurring: "I'm aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone that doesn't know Breonna Taylor's story. Maybe they'll like Google it or something. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they'll become in it.”

Picture from Naomi Ōsaka official Twitter account.

However, it was her answer to ESPN reporter, Tom Rinaldi, after her 1-6 6-3 6-3 triumph that gained wide support and response from the public.

People on social media applauded her response, praising that turning the question back was a smart move to make Rinaldi and the wider public think about what it meant for them to see her gesture.

As we start celebrating Black History Month in the UK, Naomi Ōsaka’s message feels more poignant than ever. With her young age and an already outstanding career behind her, the 22-year-old has contributed multiple times in raising awareness about racial injustice and shared her platform to make her voice resonate.


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