Naomi Osaka‘s amazing come from behind victory on Saturday was must-see TV as she secured her second U.S. Open title in three years. But she also gave viewers another reason to tune in and watch the final Grand Slam tournament of the year: to find out who’s stolen Black life she would be bringing awareness to.
In case you missed it, since her first match of the 2020 U.S. Open on Sept. 5, the 22-year-old tennis champion has been wearing masks emblazoned with the names of a series of unarmed Black people who have been killed in recent years and whose deaths never received the justice they rightfully deserved.
On Saturday, Osaka’s mask bore the name of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old Black boy whose pellet gun was mistaken for a real one when police shot and killed him within seconds of responding to a report of a grown man with a gun in a Cleveland park in 2014.
During the award ceremony after Osaka beat Victoria Azarenka in three sets, she was asked what message she was trying to convey with her masks — seven in all, one for each of her matches. Osaka returned that question and by offering her own query:
“What was the message that you got is more the question,” she answered. “The point is to make people start talking.”
Osaka said she had been in her self-imposed “bubble” and was focusing on her matches so she wasn’t sure what the public response to her masks was other than what she saw on social media.
“The more retweets it gets,” she said before continuing, “the more people talk about it.”
It’s safe to say both her missions were accomplished — she won the U.S. Open in resounding fashion and made more people aware of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Her gesture struck a chord with family members of some of the people she represented, resulting in personal video messages of thanks to Osaka.
Her decision to wear masks with a social justice message in a sport that traditionally lacks in diversity among players and fans alike is pretty noteworthy. And in a year with global protests against police violence and racism — sparked in part by the police killing of George Floyd, another person whose name Osaka wore on a mask — it was only right that she took a stand as one of a record number of Black women playing in the U.S. Open this year.
Scroll down to see the names of the people who Osaka called attention to with her masks, and learn a little about them at the same time.
1. Day 1: Breonna Taylor
Osaka opened up her victorious U.S. Open run by wearing a mask with the name of Breonna Taylor on it in an effort to honor the young woman who was killed as police in Louisville, Kentucky, botched a no-knock warrant in search of a suspect who was at a different address. Taylor was killed in March. Six months later, the Republican attorney general in Kentucky has finally empaneled a grand jury as all of the officers who killed her had not been criminally charged as of Osaka’s win on Saturday. Taylor was a 26-year-old EMT working on the front lines of the early fight against the coronavirus. You can read more about Breonna Taylor by clicking here.
2. Day 3: Elijah McClainSource:Getty
For her next match, Osaka wore a mask with the name Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man in Colorado who last year was stopped by police responding to calls of a “suspicious man.” The situation soon escalated and McClain, a Denver native and massage therapist in Aurora, was put in a chokehold and forced him to the ground for 15 minutes. He eventually started vomiting and complaining that he couldn’t breathe. Paramedics injected McClain with the sedative ketamine to respond to his reported anxiety before driving him to the hospital, where he suffered a heart attack, went into a coma and died once he was taken off life support five days later. An independent probe into McClain’s death was launched in July. You can read more about him by clicking here.
3. Day 5: Ahmaud ArberySource:Getty
For her third match, Osaka wore a mask with Ahmaud Arbery‘s name on it. Arbery, the 26-year-old Georgia man whose death in February was covered up by local law enforcement until the New York Times blew the lid off the story, was out for a jog when he was racially profiled as a burglar, chased down by armed men, trapped with vehicles and shot to death in the middle of a street in broad daylight. To learn more about Ahmaud Arbery, click here.
4. Day 7: Trayvon MartinSource:Getty
Osaka’s fourth match began after she walked out in a mask bearing the name of Trayvon Martin, the teenager who was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida. On Feb. 26, 2012, Trayvon was just 17 years old when he was shot by George Zimmerman, a vigilante who pursued the teen even after he was told by local police to stand down. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder charge in the name of self-defense and walks free to this day. To learn more about Trayvon Martin, click here.
5. Day 9: George FloydSource:Getty
George Floyd was handcuffed and face-down on the pavement repeating that he couldn’t breathe as since-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin used his knee to apply deadly pressure to Floyd’s neck on Memorial Day in broad daylight. The unarmed 43-year-old’s offense? Allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill, a nonviolent crime that should not have resulted in any force, let alone lethal force. Three other officers are charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin, who is accused of murder. To learn more about George Floyd, click here.
6. Day 11: Philando CastileSource:Getty
Philando Castile was shot by police officer Jeronimo Yanez less than two minutes after being pulled over for a broken tail light on July 6, 2016, in suburban Minneapolis. The 32-year-old’s girlfriend and her young daughter were also in the car. His girlfriend pulled out her phone and recorded on Facebook Live leaving behind the haunting images of an innocent man’s death that would forever be seared into our memories. To learn more about Philando Castile, click here.
7. Day 13: Tamir RiceSource:Getty
On Nov. 22, 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed while playing in a park with an Airsoft pellet gun. A resident called 911 believing the gun may have been real. Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann and his partner responded to the call. Video of the incident caused widespread outrage not just because of Rice’s age, but also because he was shot within seconds of police arriving on the scene. The police cruiser was still moving when Loehmann shot Rice on the spot. Loehmann was never indicted for the killing and even got hired by another police department years later. You can learn more about Tamir Rice by clicking here.
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