Tennis superstar, Naomi Osaka, has added another trophy to her mantle after being selected for The Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year. She’s named alongside Lebron James who was voted in as
The Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year for their actions on and off the court.
She was selected Sunday, receiving 18 of 35 first-place votes and 71 points. As previously reported, Osaka won her third Grand Slam title this year – following an 11-match winning streak – and used her platform to highlight civil injustices. 12-time Grand Slam singles title winner, Billie Jean King, told the AP that Osaka has positioned herself as a leader in women’s tennis, sports, and a change-maker in our society.
“She successfully completed the difficult task of taking excellence in sports performance and using that platform to succeed outside of sports on a much bigger stage,” King told reporters. “She ignited a conversation on social justice, the results of which were bigger than tennis, larger than sports, and in doing so raised the bar for all those who want to leverage the gifts and talents we have to make a difference in our world.”
One of the defining moments of her year came during a tuneup tournament in New York. Osaka announced she wouldn’t play her semifinal in solidarity with NBA players protesting Jacob Blake’s death, which led the entire tournament to shut down for the day. Then, during the U.S. Open, she arrived for matches wearing the names of Black victims of violent white supremacy: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Blake, Tamir Rice, Elijah McClain, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, and Philando Castile.
“It was difficult to be isolated from my family for large parts of the year, but that’s nothing compared to others. It was sad to watch and read the news of people suffering from COVID-19, and the economic and social effect on so many — losing jobs, mental health. It was such a tough year for so many people,” Osaka wrote in an email interview. “And then watching the police injustices like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake (to name just a few) in the summer broke my heart. I am proud of my U.S. Open victory, but more so that I got people talking about the real issues.”
The 23-year-old Japanese-Haitian American tennis plater told AP it was the right time for her to speak up.
“There are clearly so many worthy issues. This one especially resonated with me because of my own personal upbringing; and also, while the tennis tour was paused, I was able to watch and read news at length for the first time in my life. This summer in the U.S., tensions were high and reached boiling point,” Osaka said.
She told reporters she never stopped to think about what others would think because it wasn’t going to stop her from doing the right thing.
“The strong voices of Colin (Kaepernick) and LeBron were certainly positive influences for me and gave me strength in my own convictions,” Osaka said.
For the new year, Osaka said her goals are to “work hard, do better, speak up, be kind.”
You deserve it, Naomi!