Issue 5 out now!

22-year-old tennis star Naomi Osaka opted back into her semi-final match wearing a ‘Breonna Taylor’ mask.

By Marissa Lee.

It was undoubtedly a difficult decision for tennis star Naomi Osaka to opt-in to the semi-finals of the Western and Southern Open in New York this week. Osaka, 22, originally stepped down from the match amid similar boycotts in the pro sporting community as a form of protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. She made a statement to the press regarding her decision, stating, “before I am an 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.” However, the athlete soon after announced that she would play the match after all.

Osaka’s decision to play was not without careful calculation – her original statement, regarding her decision to boycott the match garnered a lot of attention. So when she decided to play after all, all eyes were on her when she took to the court sporting a mask with two words and a huge message: ‘Breonna Taylor.’

Headlines were soon abuzz with word of Osaka’s statement. The amendment to her regular uniform is a spectacular form of in-practice protest, a technique that the sports community has utilized since the dawn of its time. Even the inception of the famed Air Jordan 1 sneaker was born out of supposed protest, as Michael Jordan was allegedly fined $5,000 every time he wore the shoes during a game.

However, recent demonstrations of protest in sports – which are deemed ‘political’ due to the national unrest surrounding the nature of their message – center entirely around anti-racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. A notable example of this dates back to 2014, when in a mid-season act of defiance, players for the Los Angeles Clippers wore black armbands, wristbands and socks during a game to protest Donald Sterling (the team’s owner’s) alleged racist remarks. In an industry where the uniforms are as highly regulated as the rules themselves, an act of defiance to that degree was enough to send shockwaves through the sporting community.

Most interesting, then, is the recent decision reached by the NBA in July to allow players to display social justice messages on the backs of their jerseys, including messages of, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘Say Her Name,’ ‘I Can’t Breathe,’ and ‘Vote.’ In theory, the act of printing a simple message on the backs of jerseys shouldn’t necessarily be a sign of progress. However, quite obviously, the messages displayed in conjunction with the current climate and the sheer exposure the NBA is receiving makes for a timely display of dissent.

It doesn’t look like they’ll stop there; players in the WNBA bore their own form of protest last Thursday, sporting shirts with seven bullet holes on the back and letters spelling out ‘Jacob Blake’ on the front. The public pushback on these demonstrations of protest have been few and far between, and even if there are naysayers, we doubt the players are listening. It’s clear that for athletes like Osaka, speaking out about social issues and using their platforms to gear up for the upcoming election are in the playbook this season, second only to the games themselves.