At her U.S. Open quarterfinals match Tuesday, Naomi Osaka wore a black face mask with George Floyd’s name written on it.
At her fourth-round match Sunday, she wore a similar mask with Trayvon Martin’s name. In the third round, it was Ahmaud Arbery, in the second it was Elijah McClain, and in the first it was Breonna Taylor.
The 22-year-old two-time Grand Slam champ has been using her platform at the tournament to raise awareness about Black people who were killed by police and victims of racism and prejudice. She’s said she has seven masks with seven names, one for every round of the tournament, should she continue to advance.
“I’m aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone that doesn’t know Breonna Taylor’s story,” Osaka said after her first-round victory, via The Washington Post. “Maybe they’ll Google it or something. 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.”
And Tuesday during her post-match interview following her quarterfinals victory over Shelby Rogers, Osaka, the tournament’s No. 4 seed, watched videos messages from the parents of Martin and Arbery thanking her for her efforts.
“I feel like I’m a vessel at this point in order to spread awareness.”
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
— espnW (@espnW) September 9, 2020
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Martin, said:
“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. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Continue to do well, continue to kick butt at the U.S. Open. Thank you.”
Immediately after, a message Marcus Arbery Sr., Ahmaud Arbery’s father, came on:
“I just want to tell you thank you for the support on my family, and God bless you for what you’re doing and you’re supporting our family with my son. And my family really, really appreciates that, and God bless you.”
Martin was a 17-year-old Black teenager who was walking alone when a neighborhood watch volunteer — who was later acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges — shot and killed him in 2012 in Florida. Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was jogging in Georgia in February when he was also shot and killed, and three white men have been charged with his murder.
After watching the video messages from the victims’ parents, Osaka was clearly touched and briefly struggled to find the right words. She later said that she was just trying not to cry, but in that moment, she responded to video messages by saying:
“It means a lot. I feel like — I don’t know. They’re so strong. I’m not sure what I would be able to do if I was in their position. But, I don’t know. I feel like I’m a vessel at this point, and in order to spread awareness, and hopefully — it’s not going to dull the pain, but hopefully I can, you know, help with anything that they need.”
More about Osaka’s moving reaction from New York Times tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg:
“It’s a speck of what I could be doing.
“Yeah, it was really emotional. I feel like, I don’t know, after I saw it, at first I was a bit in shock. Now that I’m here and I took the time, I’m really grateful and I’m really humbled.”
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) September 9, 2020
Osaka also responded on Twitter:
I often wonder if what I’m doing is resonating and reaching as many people as I hope. That being said, I tried to hold it in on set but after watching these back I cried so much. The strength and the character both of these parents have is beyond me. Love you both, thank you ❤️ https://t.co/FSDLtWNJDr
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) September 9, 2020
After beating Rogers in the quarterfinals Tuesday, Osaka will face No. 28 seed Jennifer Brady in the semifinals Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.