Few professional athletes have been more vocal as of late on social justice issues than 2020 U.S. Open Singles champion Naomi Osaka.
Shortly after the August police shooting of Jacob Blake, Osaka joined professional athletes across the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball and other sports in speaking out not only in words, but in deed. That week, Osaka boycotted an August 26 semi-final match at the Western & Southern Open, in Cincinnati.
In addition to her August match, Osaka has also gotten notice for wearing a series of face masks throughout September’s U.S. Open, all bearing the names of Black victims of police brutality and violence, such as Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice and George Floyd.
Prior to winning the most recent Grand Slam, Osaka also took part in a TV ad by sports recovery equipment maker Hyperice, called “Humanity.” The ad began running on ESPN and other national media outlets during the first leg of the NBA playoffs.
Anthony Katz, founder of Hyperice, spoke about the original idea behind the TV ad, and how sports pros like Osaka got involved.
“With all that’s going on in the world, we wanted to show our athletes that we stand in solidarity with them in the fight for racial equality. I reached out to each athlete individually and we wanted to do something that would have a positive impact,” said Katz, who says he starting things off by talking about the TV ad idea with NBA star Blake Griffin, a personal friend. “I also reached out to several of our non-Black athletes, who were fully supportive. We all want to see an end to racism and violence in our society.”
Right after her U.S. Open Singles Championship win, I connected with Osaka to ask her some questions about her recent and ongoing efforts on social justice.
Andy Frye: In August, you boycotted an important match in solidarity with other athletes on the Jacob Blake shooting. Talk about your motivation.
Naomi Osaka: Coming to the decision was easy, but the execution was a bit more tricky and emotional. Racial injustice and police violence is such a huge problem in this country so I want to use my platform to advocate for change. My motivation was to draw more attention to the movement on a global scale.
VIDEO: Osaka and other sports pros appear in “Humanity.”
AF: Athletes were speaking out before George Floyd, but now they’re willing to boycott playoff games and concede trophies and championships. What’s different now?
Osaka: When Colin Kaepernick started this movement by taking a knee during the national anthem, it caused great controversy and brought awareness, and yet since then, we’ve seen countless more injustices against Black people. I think we have more momentum now and more support across racial lines.
AF: Between the WNBA, the US Women’s soccer team, yourself and others, it seems that sports women are really speaking up. Do you think women have a unique voice on social issues?
Osaka: I believe that I am in a unique position because I am in a sport where women make as much in prize money as men, at least in Grand Slams, but I know it was not always the case.
Billie Jean King and women who preceded me in tennis had to work really hard for that equality and in many sports, (we are) still a ways off in terms of having equal opportunity. I think women of all races perhaps can relate more to systemic oppression over the years so it’s no surprise to me that we are finding our voice. It’s really inspiring.
AF: The Hyperice commercial you did is more than just a TV ad. Talk about your participation in it.
Osaka: I think that it’s a really powerful message. Any time I partner with a brand, it’s important to me that they share my values and it meant a lot to me that Hyperice was willing to put their money where their mouth is. They really listen to the voice of the athlete.
Source: Forbes – Business