Osaka Delays Semifinal to Draw Attention to Police Shootings

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Naomi Osaka arrived at the U.S. Open on Aug. 31 wearing a Breonna Taylor face mask. (U.S. Open)

NEW YORK — Naomi Osaka, the Japanese world No. 10, announced Aug. 26 that she would sit out her semifinal at the Western and Southern Open in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

The posted the following message on social media in both English and Japanese:

“Hello, as many of you are aware I was scheduled to play my semifinals match tomorrow. However, before I am a 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?

“#JacobBlake #BreannaTaylor #ElijaMcclain #GeorgeFloyd”

Osaka’s action was prompted by the shooting of Jacob Blake, 29, on Aug. 23 in Kenosha, Wis. During an arrest, police officer Rusten Sheskey shot seven times at his back, with four shots hitting Blake and leaving him paralyzed. During the subsequent unrest, two protesters were shot and killed by a militia member and Trump supporter from Illinois.

On Aug. 27, Osaka said that in consultation with the WTA and U.S. Tennis Association, “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.”

The WTA Tour and ATP Tour said the same day that they had decided to postpone the day’s semifinal matches for both men and women to Friday to take “a stance against racial inequality and social injustice.”

Members of the NBA, MLB, MLS and WNBA also halted games to draw attention to the issue.

On Aug. 28, Osaka overcame a faulty serve and reached the Western and Southern Open finals by defeating Elise Mertens, 6-2, 7-6 (5).

On Aug. 31, Osaka walked out in a Breonna Taylor mask for her night match at Arthur Ashe Stadium. She defeated compatriot Misaki Doi, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 and is set to play Camila Giorgi on Wednesday.

“I’m aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone that doesn’t know Breonna Taylor’s story,” Osaka told reporters. “Maybe they’ll like Google it or something. For me, just spreading awareness. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they’ll become in it.”

Taylor, 26, an EMT and aspiring nurse, was killed in her own home on March 13 when three plainclothes Louisville police officers executing a “no-knock” warrant returned gunfire after her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a warning shot because he thought they were intruders. Taylor was shot five times.

Walker maintains that the police never identified themselves. The drug warrant involved Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, who did not live at the apartment, and no drugs were found. Taylor’s family is seeking criminal charges against the officers.

“I have seven,” Osaka told ESPN on court after her win against Doi. “It’s quite sad that seven masks isn’t enough for the amount of names, so hopefully I’ll get to the finals and you can see all of them.”

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