15 September 2020

Naomi Osaka made it hard to be silent

Austrian Dominic Thiem won the US Open 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 after besting Alexander Zvarev in an unprecedented fifth set tiebreaker. It was Thiem’s first Grand Slam title and it was first time in 71 years that the eventual champion won the final after dropping the first two sets. A rare finish to say the least. Had top seed and clear favorite Novak Djokovic not been disqualified in the Round of 16, we might have had a different story, but let that not take away from Thiem’s heroics.

That is a top story. That is THE top story, one could argue. The top story of the previous day was Naomi Osaka winning her second Grand Slam title, this against Victoria Azarenka. Osaka dropped the first set and was down a break in the second, but eventually came through 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.

And yet, that’s not THE top story in the larger picture.

In the larger frame Naomi Osaka played her heart out, as did Azarenka, but she was a champion on and off the court. During each of her games, Osaka wore a face mask displaying the name of a victim of police brutality and racial violence in the USA.


Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice are names known to some, names that made the news and then like most names associated with systemic racism and police brutality in the USA became part of a number. Naomi Osaka made a point, every single match, that was not recorded by the scorer.

What was the point? This is what she said: ‘"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.’ The same goes for McClain, Arbery, Martin, Floyd, Castile and Rice.

She kept them alive and as importantly keeps the issue alive.

The point is, we do not know who the next Breonna Taylor will be. We don’t know who the next George Floyd will be. We do not know the name of the racist thug in a police uniform who will knee or pull a gun on someone because, well, the victim is not white.


From the first game in the first round to the match point, indeed before the first match and after the final, as she lifted the trophy and as I write, there are white militias armed to the teeth roaming certain cities in the USA with police and political authorities supporting them either with silence or absence or both.

Naomi Osaka will not stop them. However, she’s told the world, ‘the USA is not what you may think it is…so think again.’ Something of the kind. She tells the world to watch, to voice objection, to hold US officials accountable. And she tells the world ‘and it could be the same in your country, only the names and collectives being different, one way or another.’

She said earlier this year that she’s done being shy. Maybe it’s time for many others to be done with shyness. Maybe that’s part of what it will take to embarrass racist cops to be done with brutality.



Someone asked her about what exactly she was trying to say with her ‘mask protest’ and she asked back, ‘what does it say to you?’ ‘It tells me to be done with shyness,’ is perhaps a legitimate response.

Naomi Osaka is 22 years old. She legitimately owns the champion’s voice. And she speaks for those who do not or cannot or worse, are not allowed to. She was heard. Loud and clear.


Other articles in the series titled 'The Interception' [published in 'The Morning']

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