On August 27, Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka decided not to play her semifinal match at the US Open Western and Southern tennis tournament following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Osaka's “new voice” against racism received praise and, unsurprisingly, criticism in Japan.
The Jacob Blake shooting that occurred on August 23, 2020, as part of a historic pattern of violence against Black, Indigenous and Colored People (BICOP), has sparked mass criticism and civil disobedience across the country.
Many athletes and sports teams organized unscheduled strikes against the shooting. In a tweet on August 27, Osaka stated that he would withdraw from the Western and Southern Open tournament to “start a conversation in a predominantly white sport” (tennis):
– NaomiOsaka 大 坂 な お み (@naomiosaka) August 27, 2020
Hello, as many of you will know, I was scheduled to play my semifinal match tomorrow. However, before being an athlete, I am a black woman, and so I feel that there are much more important matters that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis. I don't think anything drastic will happen if I don't play, but if I can start a conversation in a mostly white sport, I see it as a step in the right direction. In all honesty, I am very angry to see the genocide of blacks at the hands of the Police. I'm sick of seeing new labels every day and tired of always having the same conversation over and over again. When will it be enough? Jacob Blake. Breonna Taylor. Choose Mcclain. George Floyd.
Following Osaka's announcement, the tournament organizers announced a pause in play on Thursday, August 27, and that they would resume on Friday, August 28. Osaka then announced that he would rejoin the tournament, and returned to the tennis court wearing a Black Lives Matter jersey.
– US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 28, 2020
Westrern and Souther IOpen
New York City.
The 48 hours of Naomi Osaka. ✊🏿
Osaka said in a statement made to various media:
As you know, I pulled out of the tournament yesterday in support of racial injustice and continued police violence. (…) I was (and am) ready and prepared to concede the match to my opponent. However, after my announcement and lengthy consultation with the WTA (Women's Tennis Association) and USTA (United States 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.
As you know, yesterday I withdrew from the tournament in support of racial injustices and continued police violence (…) I was (and am) ready and prepared to play against my opponent. However, after my statement and lengthy consultation with the WTA (Women's Tennis Association) and the USTA (United States Tennis Association), I accepted their request to play on Friday. They offered to postpone all games to Friday and in my opinion this has brought more attention to the movement.
Naomi Osaka, considered one of the best tennis players in the world, is a Japanese citizen with Japanese-Haitian descent, grew up in the United States, and speaks Japanese and Creole. In order to fulfill the requirements of Japanese citizenship, which do not allow dual citizenship, and to represent Japan at the 2018 Olympics, Osaka renounced US citizenship.
He is a popular character in Japan, thanks to his record of victories on the tennis courts and for being very playful online. However, he has suffered racist attacks online, sometimes for seemingly innocent tweets and sometimes for supporting and publicizing the Black Lives Matter movement in Japan.
A popular Twitter user, describing himself as a “Japanese-American hapa” (someone partially of Asian or Pacific Islander descent), summarized in a tweet that was shared tens of thousands of times, the various criticisms leveled against Osaka in Japan:
大阪 な お み さ ん の 試 合 ボ イ コ ッ ト に 対 す る 日本語 コ メ ン ト が 最 悪 す ぎ る。
「や っ ぱ り 日本人 じ ゃ な か っ た」
「ス ポ ン サ ー に 対 し て 迷惑」
「こ ん な こ と し て も 無 駄」
「警察 に 殺 さ れ る よ う な こ と を し た 本人 が 悪 い」
全 て 拾 い き れ な い。 本 当 に 酷 い。
– あ ん な (@ annaPHd9pj) August 27, 2020
The comments in Japanese about Naomi Osaka's decision to boycott her tennis matches are absolutely dire:
“I guess she's not really Japanese after all.”
“I think about the difficulties their sponsors are facing.”
“Boycotting the parties is useless.”
“The boy who was shot by the police deserved it.”
Yamaoka Tetsuhide, a leading ultra-conservative commentator, scolded Osaka in English and even used the diminutive and dismissive honorific “chan” when addressing the world tennis star:
Naomi Chan, I know what you must feel but I think it’s a totally separate issue. You can freely express your concern by all means but please don't walk away from tennis court as you are professional tennis player we love.
– 山岡 鉄 秀 (@ jcn92977110) August 27, 2020
Naomi-chan, I know what you must feel but I think it's a totally different matter. Of course, you can freely express your concern, but please do not stay away from the tennis court as you are a professional tennis player whom we love.
However, many more people showed their support for Osaka in Japan, such as Fukuyama Kazuhito, a prominent lawyer and mayoral candidate in Kyoto.
大 坂 な お み さ ん
「私 は ア ス リ ー ト で あ る 前 に 、 黒 人 女性 で す。 そ し て 、 私 が テ ニ ス を す る の を 見 て も ら う よ り 、 す っ と 大事 な あ ま て」 と が あ て て
お そ ら く 苦 渋 の 選 択 だ っ た と 思 う。 私 は 支持 す る。 https://t.co/LwXxbOitnu
– 福山 和 人 (@kaz_fukuyama) August 27, 2020
Player Naomi Osaka “I am a black woman before I am an athlete.”
“He refrains from competing by incident with a black boy.”
The protest activity spreads across the sports world of the United States.
Mr. Naomi Osaka:
“Before being an athlete, I am a black woman, so I feel that there are much more important issues that need immediate attention than watching me play tennis.”
Probably a difficult decision. I support Naomi Osaka.
Huffington Post: “Naomi Osaka Announces Boycott of Party to Protest Police Shooting of a Black Man.”
Ishigaki Noriko, Senday City Councilor and member of a major opposition political party in Japan, said:
大 坂 な お み さ ん の 抗議 の 意思 表示 と 行動 が あ っ て 、 大会 が 「人種 差別 や 社会 的 な 不 公平 に 抗議 す る た め」 と し て 試 合 を 見 合 わ た。
大会 側 が 彼女 の 主張 に 呼 応 し た の だ か ら 出場 に 応 じ る の は 何 ら 矛盾 は あ り ま せ ん。
構造 的 な あ ら ゆ る 人種 差別 へ の 抗議 に 連 帯 し ま す 。https: //t.co/A3ew5hcIar
– 石 垣 の り こ (@norinotes) August 28, 2020
Naomi Osaka suspends her boycott of competition.
Thanks to the protest and activism of Naomi Osaka, the tournament has been postponed by the organizers as a “statement against racism and social injustice.” Osaka does not contradict himself when he agreed to resume participation, as the tournament responded (to Osaka's message).
I sympathize with the protest against all structural racism.
NHK article: “Naomi Osaka takes part in tennis tournament again”
When she returned to the court on Friday, August 28, she was forced to retreat quickly once again with a hamstring strain.