Last month, Japanese tennis champion Naomi Osaka, the highest-paid female athlete in the world, effectively shut down the Women’s Tennis Association for a couple days by announcing she would strike alongside other professional sports players in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Since then, Osaka has continued her activism for victims of police brutality on the court by wearing a series of face masks emblazoned with the names of Black men and women who have been killed by cops and armed vigilantes. Osaka brought seven masks with seven different names to the tournament, prepared to wear one for each match. So far she has worn five: Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Trayvon Martin.
After winning her U.S. Open quarterfinals match on Tuesday, Osaka appeared on ESPN, where she was surprised with a video message from the mother of Trayvon Martin and the father of Ahmaud Arbery. Martin was 17 when he was murdered by neighborhood-watch coordinator George Zimmerman in 2012; Arbery, 25, was jogging in his neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, earlier this year when two white men in a pickup truck chased him down and shot him dead. Three suspects have been charged in connection with Arbery’s murder.
Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, said in the video message, “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.” Marcus Arbery Sr. said in a separate message, “God bless you for what you’re doing and you supporting our family with my son. My family really, really appreciates that.”
Osaka, visibly moved upon seeing the videos, responded first by saying, “It means a lot … 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 they need.” Later, in a news conference, Osaka reflected again on that moment, saying, “I was just trying really hard not to cry. It’s extremely touching that they would feel touched by what I’m doing.”