23-year-old Naomi Osaka, a Japanese-Haitian American tennis star, was named Female Athlete of the Year by The Associated Press. With a grand total of 71 points from 18/35 1st place votes she was chosen as the winner. The winners of this award are chosen based off of their actions on and off the court. Osaka had quite the year winning her 3rd Grand Slam title and showing leadership by using her global platform to start conversations about racial injustice. She made her position clear when she refused to play in a semifinal round in New York following Jacob Blake’s death. Her influence is so great that they ended up shutting the tournament down for the day. This act was followed by her showing up to the U.S. Open wearing black masks with the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, Tamir Rice, Elijah McClain, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, and Philando Castile, in hopes that the conversations about injustice would keep going.
It has been a wildly difficult year for a myriad of reasons, but Osaka felt the pull to use her platform to amplify the voices of those gone but not forgotten. She has been very vocal about her support of the Black Lives Matter movement saying, “Before I am a[n] athlete, I am a Black woman.”
“It was difficult to be isolated from my family for large parts of the year, but that’s nothing compared to others. It was sad to watch and read the news of people suffering from COVID-19, and the economic and social effect on so many — losing jobs, mental health. It was such a tough year for so many people,” Osaka shared. “And then watching the police injustices like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake (to name just a few) in the summer, broke my heart. I am proud of my U.S. Open victory, but more so that I got people talking about the real issues.”
Osaka went on to say, “There are clearly so many worthy issues. This one especially resonated with me because of my own personal upbringing; and also, while the tennis tour was paused, I was able to watch and read news at length for the first time in my life. This summer in the U.S., tensions were high and reached a boiling point.”
As fate would have it, The Associated Press named Lebron James the Male Athlete of the Year. James, who has been doing incredible work off the court for years, inspired Osaka.
“The strong voices of Colin (Kaepernick) and LeBron were certainly positive influences for me and gave me strength in my own convictions,” Osaka explained.
“The thing is I don’t consider myself an activist, I consider myself a person that has something they believe in and wants to speak about it. I feel like the activism label for me is a bit too early, but I would say that anyone who wants to be an activist or has a lot of things they believe in, they shouldn’t be scared.”
In addition to winning her 3rd Grand Slam Title, Osaka also topped Forbes’ list as the highest paid woman in sports and named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year. She is already off to a bang a few days into 2021 after being named Louis Vuitton’s Brand Ambassador. She has had a few collaborations previously and has expressed that fashion is important to her.
“Aside from tennis, my most treasured passion is fashion; and there is no brand more iconic than Louis Vuitton,” Osaka explained. “It is such an honor to work with Nicolas—he’s a designer I admire so much and we share a mutual love of Japanese culture and style. To become global brand ambassador is truly a dream come true for me.”
Nicolas Ghesquière, the creative director of Louis Vuitton, said, “Naomi is an exceptional woman who represents her generation and is also a role model for everyone. Her career and convictions are inspiring. I am in awe of Naomi; she stays true to herself and doesn’t compromise on her values.”