Naomi Osaka: The Value of Sport Stars Speaking Out for Justice

Naomi Osaka's racial justice activism is has heightened awareness among her fans around the world, including in Asia.
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Tennis star Naomi Osaka's racial justice activism has heightened awareness among her fans around the world, including in Asia.

When Naomi Osaka walked on to court at the US Open in August, the world’s highest-paid female athlete was covered in names: Nike, Yonex, All Nippon Airways, and Nissin, the company that invented the instant noodle and which has supported her from the start of her stratospheric rise to the top of tennis.

So when Mayumi Taguchi, a fan watching an ocean away in Yokohama, saw the words “Breonna Taylor” emblazoned on Ms Osaka’s face mask, she assumed it was just another sponsor — perhaps an exotic foreign fashion label she’d never heard of.

When she googled the words, the reality startled her. The name on Ms Osaka’s mask belonged to a Black woman killed in her home by police in Louisville, Kentucky: one of the injustices that fuelled the Black Lives Matter movement.

In that instant, and with that deliberately unmissable statement, Ms Osaka propelled herself into a position that none before her have occupied — a superstar athlete capable, at the age of 23, of making a protest reverberate equally powerfully in both east and west.

She set out to “spread awareness”, as she put it, of violence against Black people on the biggest stage possible, but ended up, say sponsors, sports industry supremos and advertising agencies, doing a great deal more.

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