Naomi Osaka was overcome with emotion this week after receiving video messages from the parents of Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery, two of the Black victims killed in incidents of racial injustice that the tennis star has honored on her face masks during the U.S. Open.
Following Osaka's win against Shelby Rogers on Tuesday — advancing the athlete to the semifinals — the tennis pro was surprised with video messages from Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, and Arbery's father, Marcus Arbery Sr.
The parents of the two shooting victims wanted to thank Osaka, 22, for paying tribute to their children by wearing face masks with their names on it, which the athlete has done for the past five rounds of the tournament.
The tennis star — who has, thus far, worn masks with the names of Arbery, Martin, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and most recently George Floyd — told reporters that she has one mask for all seven rounds, should she continue to win.
"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," Fulton said in the moving clip. "We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Continue to do well, continue to kick butt at the U.S. Open."
In 2012, Martin, an unarmed Black teen, was fatally shot by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman.
Arbery Sr. said his family "really, really appreciates" what Osaka is doing during the tournament.
"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 God bless you," he shared.
Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was allegedly chased down and fatally shot by two white men while jogging through his Georgia neighborhood in February.
Osaka was nearly moved to tears by the tributes, later telling reporters that she was "trying really hard not to cry."
"It means a lot," Osaka said. "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 and it's not going to dull the pain, but hopefully, I can help with anything that they need."
"It's extremely touching that they would feel touched by what I'm doing," she added.
Osaka wore her first attention-grabbing mask ahead of the first round — one with Taylor’s name to honor the 26-year-old Black EMT who was killed in March in her home by Louisville Metro Police.
"I actually have seven [masks], and it's quite sad that seven masks isn't enough for the amount of names, so hopefully I'll get to the finals and you can see all of them," Osaka said following her first win.
During the second round, Osaka’s mask had the name of McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who went into a coma and died after being placed in a chokehold by Aurora, Colorado, police last August.
In her post-match interview, she said wearing the masks was a way to use her platform to spread knowledge of police brutality and racism not just in the U.S., but across the world.
“I think tennis, people watch it all around the world and things that we think are common names are probably not common overseas,” the 2018 U.S. Open champion said. “For me I just want people to have more knowledge. I feel like the platform that I have right now is something that I used to take for granted and I just feel like I should be using it for something.”
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
- Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
- ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
- National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.
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