Naomi Osaka Drops Out of Tennis Semifinal to Protest Police Brutality
By Liz Calvario
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Tennis star Naomi Osaka, currently the world's highest-paid female athlete, boycotted a tennis tournament semifinal on Thursday in protest against racial injustice and "the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police."
"Before I am a [sic] athlete, I am a Black woman. As a Black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand tat need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis," Osaka wrote a statement posted to her social media accounts on Wednesday, sharing that she would not be competing in her semifinal match of the Western & Southern Open tournament in Mason, Ohio, in the wake of Jacob Blake's shooting by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
"Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach,” continued the athlete, who grew up in the United States, but represents her mother's home country of Japan in international competition. “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?"
"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."
However, later Thursday, CNN reported that Osaka planned to return to the event on Friday to take on Elise Mertens in the rescheduled semifinal match.
"I was (and am) ready and prepared to concede the match to my opponent,” said Osaka in a statement. "However, after my announcement and lengthy consultation with the WTA and USTA, I have agreed at their request to play on Friday. They offered to postpone all matches until Friday and in my mind that brings more attention to the movement. I want to thank the WTA and the Tournament for their support."
Osaka joined many major athletes in her decision to sit out from major competitions in protest. On Wednesday, Milwaukee Bucks players didn't take the court for Game 5 of their first-round NBA playoff series against the Orlando Magic. Following the teams' decision, the NBA announced that all three playoff games on Wednesday would be postponed and rescheduled. That also included Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Lakers.
Wednesday's protests came four years to the day after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's first national anthem protest, which took place before a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.
"We fully support our players and the decision they made. Although we did not know beforehand, we would have wholeheartedly agreed with them," Bucks owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan said, in a joint statement posted on the team's Twitter page. "The only way to bring about change is to shine a light on the racial injustices that are happening in front of us. Our players have done that and we will continue to stand alongside them and demand accountability and change."
The Los Angeles Lakers also showed their support for their players, writing in part: "We stand with our players and the players of the NBA in their demand for justice and the end of racial violence. Eighty percent of NBA players are Black men. We cannot love them for the joy and entertainment that they bring to the world, yet sit in silence and fail to use our platforms and resources to amplify their voices when they demand the justice and equality that America has promised us all, but denied Black people for too long."
WNBA games between the Washington Mystics vs. Atlanta Dream, Los Angeles Sparks vs. Minnesota Lynx, and Connecticut Sun vs. Phoenix Mercury were also postponed,the league tweeted shortly after. Dream center Elizabeth Williams stood on the court and read a joint statement from her teammates.
"After speaking with representatives from teams playing tonight, as well as our WNBPA leadership, the consensus is to not play in tonight's slate of games, and to kneel, lock arms and raise fists during the national anthem," she read. "We stand in solidarity with our brothers in the NBA, and will continue this conversation with our brothers and sisters across all leagues, and look to take collective action."
"What we have seen over the last few months, and most recently with the brutal police shooting of Jacob Blake, is overwhelming," she continued, in part. "And while we hurt for Jacob and his community, we also have an opportunity to keep the focus on the issues and demand change. These moments are why it's important for our fans to stay focused, hear our voices, know our hearts and connect the dots from what we say to what we do."
Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds players were the first MLB athletes to sit out of their games on Wednesday, followed by the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres, as well as the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.
"The players from the Brewers and Reds have decided to not play tonight's baseball game," the teams' joint statement begins. "With our community and our nation in such pain, we wanted to draw as much attention to the issues that really matter, especially racial injustice and systemic oppression."
The MLB later issued a statement sharing their support for the players' decision to not take the field, and expressed their solidarity with those fighting against racial injustice.
"Given the pain in the communities of Wisconsin and beyond following the shooting of Jacob Blake, we respect the decisions of a number of players not to play tonight," the statement explained. "Major League Baseball remains united for change in our society and we will be allies in the fight to end racism and injustice."
Meanwhile, MLS also released a statement as games across sports continued to be postponed.
"The entire major league soccer family is deeply saddened and horrified by the senseless shooting of Jacob Blake and events in Kenosha. We continue to stand with the Black community throughout the country -- including our players and employees -- and share in their pain, anger and frustration," the statement reads in part.
Blake, a 29-year-old Wisconsin man, was shot in the back multiple times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday. Graphic video footage of the incident shows Blake -- who was reportedly trying to break up a fight when police arrived on the scene -- walking away from officers, who have their weapons drawn. Blake survived but was left paralyzed.
On Wednesday, NBA players supported each other as they took a stand and demanded justice. Stars like LeBron James and Jamal Murray took to Twitter to express support after the Bucks sat out of their scheduled playoff game.
Blake's sister, Letetra Wideman, spoke at a press conference following her brother's shooting in Wisconsin. Hear what she said in the video below.