TOKYO. — Naomi Osaka, the world’s highest paid sportswoman, says the voices of prominent athletes can be more influential than those of politicians and is determined that hers will be heard about racial injustice.
The two-time Grand Slam champion has faced a backlash on social media after throwing her support behind the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody on May 25.
The 22-year-old Osaka, who has Japanese and Haitian parents but grew up and lives mostly in the United States, says she has no intention of backing down and hopes to help drive real and permanent social change.
“I’m vocal because I believe in the movement and want to try to use my platform to facilitate change,” Osaka told Reuters via email.
“George Floyd’s murder and the situation generally in America has had a big impact on me.
“Being silent is never the answer. Everyone should have a voice in the matter and use it.”
The death of Floyd while he was in the custody of the Minneapolis police has sparked worldwide protests against racism and calls for reforms of US law enforcement.
Osaka said she had marched in Minneapolis and attended other Black Lives Matters protests in Los Angeles, where she lives.
She says the climate has changed considerably since quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem before a 2016 NFL game and paid for his protest by being ostracized by the league.
“Colin has been putting this message out since 2016. It took a pandemic, an economic crisis and a torturous murder on camera, all at the same time, for people to really hear him,” she said.
“It shouldn’t have been that way. If the NFL wants to show that they really care the first thing they should do is take a knee together and give Colin his job back.
“That some people have said we as athletes should stick to sports is really insulting.”