Naomi Osaka Isn't Scared of Losing Sponsors

Illustration for article titled Naomi Osaka Isnt Scared of Losing Sponsors
Photo: Al Bello / Staff (Getty Images)

Naomi Osaka, the 22-year-old tennis player who first shot to international fame in 2018 after beating Serena Williams in the final of the U.S. Open, is once again making headlines during the tournament—and this time, it’s not just for her tennis skills. During the first day of the U.S. Open last week, Osaka made waves by wearing a cloth face mask with Breonna Taylor’s name on it. In subsequent days, Osaka has worn different face masks while warming up for her matches or attending press events, each with the name of a Black person who was killed at the hands of police officers or civilians.

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In a conversation in TIME with high-ranked basketball prospect Mikey Williams, Osaka spoke about the experience and difficulties of being a young Black athlete who’s visible on an international scale. (Williams, who is a rising high school sophomore, garnered attention himself recently after expressing interest in attending an HBCU over a more prestigious NCAA basketball program.)

Osaka spoke specifically about the impact of seeing the protests and riots in Minneapolis, Minnesota, this summer after the killing of George Floyd by a police officer.

I actually flew to Minneapolis with my boyfriend, and we saw everything. That was a life-changing moment.

I think athletes are scared of losing sponsors whenever they speak out. For me, that was really true, because most of my sponsors are Japanese. They probably have no idea what I’m talking about, and they might have been upset. But there comes a time where you feel like you gotta speak on what’s right and what’s important.

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When it comes to athletes making a meaningful stance about police violence against Black people, the NBA could stand to take a few tips from Osaka.

Freelance writer who loves sandwiches, astrology, & fighting on the internet.

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Irony: company that plasters “Black Lives Matter” across their website and issues a statement supporting the movement later distances itself from Black athlete for being “controversial.”