Naomi Osaka stepped into the Arthur Ashe Stadium wearing a mask that read “Elijah McClain” ahead of her second-round U.S. Open victory on Wednesday, harnessing tennis’s global appeal in her fight for racial justice.
The 22-year-old’s mask honored McClain, the 23-year-old Black man who died after a violent encounter with Aurora, Colorado, police officers in 2019.
“I think tennis - people watch it all around the world,” she said in a televised interview after her match. “Things that we think (are) common names (are) probably not common overseas.”
She had previously worn a mask honoring Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed by police officers who burst into her apartment in March, at her first-round match on Monday, and said she had seven different masks with her at the tournament.
“When I heard about his story it was very hurtful,” Osaka later told reporters, when asked about McClain. In a lawsuit filed last month against the city of Aurora and its police, McClain’s family alleged he was tackled by police officers during an encounter despite presenting no physical threat.
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“I still don’t think his name is very put out there compared to, like, George Floyd or Breonna Taylor. For me, today was very special in the way that I wanted to represent him very well,” she said.
The fourth-seeded Osaka, who has seen her platform grow with her success on the court, sent shockwaves through her sport when she announced last week that she would forego her Western & Southern Open semifinal in protest of police brutality and racial injustice in the United States.
“I feel like the platform I have right now is something I used to take for granted,” she said.