Naomi Osaka was in shock at first, then cried upon replaying video messages she received from Trayvon Martin‘s mom and Ahmaud Arbery‘s dad at the U.S. Open on Tuesday night.
Osaka said she tried really hard not to shed tears when, in an interview after her quarterfinal win, ESPN showed her taped messages from Sybrina Fulton and Marcus Arbery Sr.
Osaka came to the U.S. Open with seven face masks, one for each round should she make the final, each with a name written across it in memory of a victim of racial injustice. The first five: Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin and George Floyd.
“I just want to say thank you to Naomi Osaka for representing Trayvon Martin on your customized mask and also for Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor,” Fulton said in a video showed by ESPN. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Continue to do well. Continue to kick butt at the U.S. Open.”
“Naomi, I just want to tell you, thank you for the support of my family and God bless you for what you’re doing and you supporting our family for my son,” Arbery Sr. said. “My family really, really appreciates that.”
Osaka said she now feels like a vessel to spread awareness for the deaths of those five and many others. Two weeks ago, she decided not to play a scheduled semifinal at the Western & Southern Open, calling for racial justice. It led to support from other players and the event stopping altogether for a day.
“I often wonder if what I’m doing is resonating and reaching as many people as I hope,” Osaka posted on social media after watching the messages from Fulton and Arbery Sr. “That being said, I tried to hold it in on set, but after watching these back I cried so much. The strength and the character both of these parents have is beyond me.”
Osaka plays American Jennifer Brady in the semifinals on Thursday.
“It’s extremely touching that [Fulton and Arbery Sr.] would feel touched by what I’m doing,” Osaka said. “I feel like what I’m doing is nothing. It’s a speck of what I could be doing.
“I’m really grateful, and I’m really humbled.”
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