Professional tennis star Naomi Osaka said after winning the U.S. Open for a second time that her decision to wear masks during the tournament honoring Black Americans who have been gunned down was part of an effort to “make people start talking" about racial justice.
Osaka, who wore seven such masks during the tournament this year, on Saturday donned a mask bearing the name of Tamir Rice, a Black boy who was fatally shot by a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio, at the age of 12 in 2014 as he held a toy gun at a playground.
Other masks worn by the tennis player during the tournament have featured the names of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd -- three Black Americans whose deaths earlier this year have sparked widespread outrage and protests against racial injustice.
Pressed about her decision to wear the masks, Osaka, who is of Japanese and Haitian descent, said following her win against Victoria Azarenka late Saturday that the “point is to make people start talking” about racial justice, Reuters reports.
“Everything that I was doing off the court was sort of on the court at the same time too. It made me stronger because I felt like I have more desire to win because I want to show more names,” she continued.
Osaka has drawn praise throughout the tournament for using her platform to put the spotlight on racial inequality and police brutality. The parents of Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery thanked the 22-year-old for her efforts last week.
Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, thanked Osaka in a video for representing her son, saying: "We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Continue to do well, continue to kick butt at the U.S. Open.”
“God bless you for what you’re doing and you’re supporting our family with my son. My family really, really appreciates that,” Marcus Arbery Sr., Arbery’s father, also said in a message to Osaka at the time.
According to Reuters, Osaka has also said that she would be open to meeting the families of the people whose names she worn on her masks.
“I learn more through experiences. For me, I feel like sharing stories and hearing people’s experiences is very valuable,” she added.