Naomi Osaka is balancing the roles of athlete and activist with ease.
Osaka, who advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Open with a straight sets win Tuesday night, wore another mask, this time bearing the name of George Floyd.
She has championed the need for change and social justice, opting not to play during the Western & Southern Open on Aug. 26 after the Bucks refused to take the floor for their NBA playoff game after Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, was shot in the back by police about 40 miles south of Milwaukee. The tennis world soon followed her lead.
Now, parents of victims of racial profiling are thanking Osaka for keeping the names of their children in America's consciousness, sending her video messages that ESPN aired during its post-match interview.
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, told Osaka she was grateful for her fight for social justice.
"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. "We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Continue to do well. Continue to kick butt at the U.S. Open. Thank you."
Martin, 17, an unarmed Black teenager walking alone, was shot and killed in 2012 by George Zimmerman, a white man who was a member of a community watch group. Zimmerman, who had called the police to report Martin as suspicious, alleged he was defending himself. He was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.
Naomi Osaka brought seven masks to the U.S. Open, each with the name of a victim of racial injustice. (Photo: Matthew Stockman, Getty Images)
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Marcus Arbery Sr., the father of Ahmaud Arbery, also thanked Osaka.
"Naomi, I just want to tell you thank you for the support of my family," Arbery Sr. said. "God bless you for what you're doing and you're supporting our family with my son. My family really, really appreciates that."
Arbery, 25, an unarmed Black man, was shot and killed Feb. 23 while jogging in his neighborhood outside Brunswick, Georgia. Three white men — Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan — were arrested and charged with malice murder and felony murder, among other charges.
"I feel like they're so strong. I'm not sure what I would be able to do if I was in their position," Osaka said, clearly touched. "I feel like I'm a vessel at this point in order to spread awareness. It's not going to dull the pain, but hopefully I can help with anything that they need."
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