In the wake of George Floyd’s 2020 murder, Naomi Osaka, Japanese tennis player and Black Lives Matter (BLM) activist, spoke up to encourage people to join BLM marches. However, she received backlash from her own country, Japan. This response did not stop her. She stood beside her beliefs during a time of unrest.
During the Western and Southern Open in 2020, Osaka dropped out of the semi-final match after Jacob Blake was shot seven times by the police. At this time, I was shocked but also proud of her that she made a statement to acknowledge this shooting. It captured people’s attention, including the people of Japan. Many people, including Japan’s citizens, erupted at her for partaking in “political issues.” But Osaka joined the protests for BLM in Minnesota. She did not care what critics had to say.
Although she is a busy athlete, she strives to find time to address her mental health and explore her cultural roots. I highly recommend watching the Netflix documentary series named for her. The series dives into her racial background and how the barriers she experiences shape her life. It was intriguing to see what goes on in her life as a pro athlete and the challenges she faces as a woman of color.
Something else I admire about Osaka is that she prioritizes her mental health first before her tennis career. Recently, she was forced to drop out of the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo due to an injury. During the French Open in 2021, she announced she would not participate in any news conferences because they damaged her mental health. I believe this sends a big message to our generation: it’s ok to take a break. I’ve definitely had a bad mental health day, but I was too scared not to go to school. However, it is perfectly ok to prioritize your mental health because you don’t want to push your limits.
Naomi Osaka is more than an athlete; she strives for racial equality and empowers young adults of color. She will not let critics or the media stop her from advocating for human rights. She is a determined role model on and off the court.