Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka
AFP

New York

As Naomi Osaka forges ahead in her quench for the US Open title her awareness for racial injustice to also increasing as, this former champion wears different masks with the names victims of the brutality of Blacks in America.

On Sunday, the tennis champ entered Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York wearing a black face mask with Trayvon Martin's name on it, drawing attention to the unarmed Black teen who was fatally shot by a neighbourhood watchman in 2012.

The athlete, who defeated Estonia's Anett Kontaveit to advance to the quarterfinals, has worn a similar mask with different names during each round of the tennis tournament so far and has told reporters that she has one for all seven rounds, should she continue to win.

Following her victory, Osaka explained her reasoning for the Martin mask, sharing on Instagram that she had "a lot to say" about his death.

"I remember Trayvon’s death clearly," the 22-year-old wrote. "I remember being a kid and just feeling scared, irreverent info but I actually didn’t wear hoodies for years cause I wanted to decrease the odds of 'looking suspicious'. I know his death wasn’t the first, but for me it was the one that opened my eyes to what was going on."

"I remember watching the events unfold on tv and wondering what was taking so long, why was justice not being served," she continued. "To see the same things happening over and over still is sad. Things have to change."

Osaka's wore her first attention-grabbing mask ahead of round one — one with Breonna Taylor’s name to honor the 26-year-old Black EMT who was killed in March in her home by Louisville Metro Police.

"I actually have seven (masks), and it's quite sad that seven masks isn't enough for the amount of names, so hopefully I'll get to the finals and you can see all of them," Osaka said following her first win.

For Friday's match, Osaka wore a face mask with Ahmaud Arbery's name on it as she beat her opponent Marta Kostyuk in the third round of the New York tournament.

Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was allegedly chased down and fatally shot by two white men while jogging through his Georgia neighborhood in February.

"I would like everyone to know that it was completely avoidable — this did not have to happen," Osaka told reporters of Arbery's death following the match. "None of these deaths had to happen. I just want everyone to know the names."

In her post-match interview, she said wearing the masks was a way to use her platform to spread knowledge of police brutality and racism not just in the U.S., but across the world.

“I think tennis, people watch it all around the world and things that we think are common names are probably not common overseas,” the 2018 U.S. Open champion said. “For me I just want people to have more knowledge. I feel like the platform that I have right now is something that I used to take for granted and I just feel like I should be using it for something.”

Following the August 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, Osaka was among many athletes to boycott their respective sports. Blake, 29, was shot in the back by police officers on Aug. 23 in front of three of his children. His family said that he has been paralysed from the waist down.

Osaka announced her decision to pull out of her semifinals match at the 2020 Western & Southern Open. Several hours later, the tournament announced it was pausing play for a day.

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