Naomi Osaka went on strike for racial justice in the middle of a tournament

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If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen that I’ve been tweeting a lot about tennis this week. The US Tennis Association created a “bubble” in New York for American and international players for a four-week period to play the Western & Southern Open and the US Open. This week is for the W&S Open and the tennis has been enjoyable to watch, even though there are no fans in the stands. Naomi Osaka has been playing very well – she played her most difficult match of the week in yesterday’s quarterfinals and she won. She was supposed to play her semifinal today, and many commentators were saying that Osaka would probably win the title. I assume that after her QF, Naomi went back to her bubble life and watched TV yesterday evening. Just a few hours after the NBA, WNBA and MLB all went on strike, Naomi issued a statement:

“Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman. And as a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis. I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.”

“Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach. I’m exhausted of having a new hashtag pop up every few days and I’m extremely tired of having this same conversation over and over again. When will it ever be enough?”

[From Naomi’s social media]

I’ll admit, this really surprised me. Osaka had joined some of the BLM protests over the summer and she was just starting to find her voice on racial justice issues. Which was seen as “fine” within the white establishment tennis community because that was her own time and it was off the court. To go on strike in tennis – especially in the middle of a tournament – is so dangerous to a tennis player’s career. It’s not like a team sport (basketball, baseball) where a team can all come together and strike. Tennis is an individual sport and Osaka really could have faced some serious repercussions (and still might) within the sport. But for now, she actually shocked the tournament into reacting – the W&S decided to hit pause on all play today:

Other players in the New York Bubble have reacted positively, and not just the Americans. (American men in tennis are mostly MAGA and it’s gross.) I kind of wonder if the Western & Southern decided to suspend play for a day because they were worried some of the other players in the semifinals might also strike.

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Photos courtesy of Getty.

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19 Responses to “Naomi Osaka went on strike for racial justice in the middle of a tournament”

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  1. Bean says:

    I’m so glad W&S respected and recognized the dire moment. I love this, because tennis wouldn’t have cared otherwise. This is especially wonderful because she is able to do this on her own. Think how different the reaction would be if this was Serena (considering the amount of racism and objectification she has to deal with).

  2. Mtec says:

    Brave young woman. She could be sacrificing a lot with this, her budding career, endorsements etc., but she recognized what the right thing for her to do was, and did it. That’s integrity. I hope she doesn’t face any punishments like Kaepernick did 4 years before. He was part of a team, but he was alone in his protest, and for the most part, in tennis, so is she.

  3. hindulovegod says:

    Add Cici Bellis to the list of African tennis players who support Trump and white nationalism. Tennis keeps sweeping its racism problem under the rug. Last year, Sports Illustrated examined officiating at the US Open and found clear misogyny and racism in the calls. Tennis did nothing except continue to blame the victims of a hostile work environment. And we’re not even getting into Indian Wells or Sharapova. It’s a mess.

  4. Lilitel says:

    I respect her strength and commitment, but unfortunately all the sport strikes in the world it won’t change a single thing to this sad situation :’(

  5. Guest with Cat says:

    There was some things said about this biracial multi ethnic young woman in another post about her yesterday and how she recognized or was seen to prioritize her Japanese identity over being black or American. I was so offended as a biracial multi ethnic woman myself I didn’t trust myself to comment.

    To those people I ask is this enough identification you? I am so sick that after over 50 years on this planet mixed race people are still always “other” or “never enough” until we do something extraordinary to try and prove we treasure all sides of our heritage. Or we are accused of capitalizing on whatever part of us seems advantageous at the moment. We are never allowed to just be.

    • WaterIsLife says:

      ^^^^THIS! Thank you for posting this Guest with Cat. As an Indigenous/Irish woman I am so frustrated, hurt, and pissed over how I still have to defend my responses to what is happening in the world. I am either veiwed as too Indigenous or not enough, depending on the racists commenting on my actions and reactions to the protests, killings, as well as the continung Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. This shit gets old.

      • Guest with Cat says:

        I feel you. When it comes to BLM I had the epiphany that even though I’ve faced a lifetime of racism unique to my mixed heritage I had to recognize I can’t know how racism looks and feels to black people. So as an ally I’d take a seat and support them as they speak on the injustices they face.

        So it was incredibly hurtful to see the reactions I saw to Naomi Osaka identifying with her Japanese heritage. People couldn’t understand it so they were deriding her for it or ascribing greed as a motive. I wish I had stood up for her and the multiracial multi ethnic point of view but I was too angry to be articulate. I was just going to stir up a fight and wasn’t going to change hearts or minds.

        If people declare they are exhausted hearing about us and from us, imagine how exhausted we are living with these attitudes toward us.

    • MarcelMarcel says:

      I’m so glad you guys pointed out the hypocrisy. It was real gross to see many adults lambast a young womxn for simply existing and discussing her experiences.
      I’m really sorry you have all had to deal with racism & silencing.
      I’ve been thinking about this a lot because my white Australian niece is having a baby with her (very lovely) Tongan partner. So I’ve been thinking about how to be a good Aunty and make sure their bubba feels loved & accepted by me.
      Hearing firsthand accounts like yours are really helpful. (Although BiPoc people are not required to educate me. I’m just grateful to hear stories people feel comfortable sharing).

      • Guest with Cat says:

        First, congratulations to your family on the upcoming new addition. From what I’ve seen of your posts, inclusivity is your natural inclination and not an affectation. So I think just being your warm, loving, welcoming self will be sufficient. Just listening when your niece and her partner and their child speak will be enough. A receptive ear is far more than many of us have gotten from our families while growing up with both overt and sublimated racism within them. Your family is extremely lucky to have you! Best wishes on a safe and happy birthday for the little one!

    • Anna says:

      Agreed. I wrote in comments about this for the last post on Naomi Osaka and want to share it again here. End of day, I’m sick and tired of people who do not identify as multiracial or biracial running their mouths about those of us who are. We are allowed to acknowledge and celebrate the breadth of all we are, and to make a stand as Black people, too, (if one has African ancestry in that multiracial mix). In the U.S., it’s usually those who dislike/hate/vilify those who claim mr/br heritage who are most vocal and the conversation is always the same. It’s not a conversation; it’s people who hate mr/br people projecting all of that anger/hatred/whatever onto us and then creating a narrative that says we think we’re better than, or that we’re somehow creating the conditions that allow the abuse. No. I agree there are histories of privilege that factor in but to keep going decade after decade with these tired tropes is just so regressive. And we haven’t asked for that. We’re living our lives. No one’s mixed up but the people spewing this divisive narrative.

      From my post on Naomi:
      When one is mixed race bi-continentally and/or two different countries, it’s a bit of a different matter than from within one country. In my experience, this country (US) has cultivated very little ability and lacks any desire to have a nuanced conversation about multiracial or biracial identity, and any mention of it is either heavily weighted toward dismissal, vilifying, or attempting to shame such individuals (as if we don’t know, identify with, and celebrate being Black, and yes, we are fully aware that’s how everyone in this country sees us so that point doesn’t need to be trotted out for the bazillionth time). The conversations around this from folks here are always the same, and I always know that if it’s not initiated by a self-identified multiracial or biracial individual, it will be a negative convo designed to give space for people to speak poorly of such individuals. I’ve spent 30 years listening to how it’s discussed here and there’s been no growth, nuance, or change. Sadly, some amazing and brilliant individuals I used to follow, had to unfollow as soon as they started talking badly about mr/br folk. Unless they do so with the aim to have a positive and informed discussion, the only reason to post seems to be to denigrate. I’m tired of it but I’ve been tired for decades now.

    • Ange says:

      Honestly it was a bit of a mic drop moment for me after reading that discussion and calling it out for its absurdity 🤣

  6. Jess says:

    Good for her. This was really brave of her.

  7. cisne says:

    that is ballsy! Wow! Some may say very risky and kinna stupid. Yah i did not expect this at all…she is at the cusp of her peak career …wow!

    I am strong fan going forward.

  8. Queen Meghan's Hand says:

    I wonder for how long Osaka will strike and if other tennis players will join her. I hope she’s working on that–nothing like collective action. I think seeing athletes strike (you’re not ‘boycotting’ your workplace by refusing to work, NYTimes) will help bring about a general strike.

    I worry though that these players strikes will be thwarted by sports associations (the administrators and owners) preemptively sanitizing by postponing games, and posting empty platitudes.

  9. herhighness says:

    huge moment for all athletes, this generation is doing the daym thing & I’m happy to see it! Influence goes a long long way & empowers those on the front lines at risk every day, the unprotected blacks in the hoods. white supremacy must end.

  10. Addiedabbie says:

    I’m sure this is a big deal for her. I hope that she has all the support that she needs to take this stand and the criticism that will come her way. Bravo 👏 👏. !