On Wednesday night, joining many other athletes in protesting racial injustice, Naomi Osaka declared her intention not to play her Thursday semifinal match at the Western & Southern Open. As a portion of Osaka’s statement read, “Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach.”
The tournament later announced that there would no matches played on Thursday, with its statement noting that, “As a sport, tennis is collectively taking a stance against racial inequality and social injustice that once again has been thrust into the forefront in the United States.” Play will resume on Friday.
In a statement to The Guardian, Osaka said that, “I was (and am) ready and prepared to concede the match to my opponent.” But Osaka is on Friday’s schedule and is scheduled to face Elise Mertens.
Throughout the day, a number of people throughout the tennis community gave their thoughts in the sport’s latest historic moment.
All photos from Getty Images
Martina Navratilova, 18-time Grand Slam singles champion:
“I can’t say enough good things about Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff. They have the power to really impact the world off the court, thanks to their on-court exploits. I think they’re going to use it and magnify it. Of course, so much of this is being driven by the players who are affected by it. This is a great step forward in social justice.”
Billie Jean King, 12-time Grand Slam singles champion:
“I am very proud of everyone in tennis for stepping up and I am very proud of sports for leading in these challenging times. It is so important and energizing to see the men and women together on this issue and to show the world we are in this together. We can never let up. We have a platform, we are visible and we must keep the pedal to the metal to keep fighting for equality and justice. Through the opportunities presented to us in sports, we can move the needle and we can bring about change. We have to do this.
“It’s not easy and it’s not the first time tennis has stepped up on inequality. We first faced the color barrier with Althea Gibson in the 1950s. We attacked pay equity with the Original 9 in 1970. We addressed HIV/AIDS with Arthur Ashe. Now the young generation of tennis is leading, using their voices, their platform and placing themselves on the right side of history.”
Katrina Adams, sports analyst and former USTA president:
“As a fellow Black woman, I’m really proud of Naomi stepping up and stating her position. The world doesn’t realize how difficult it is to be a Black tennis player in a predominantly white sport. These players are getting abused daily on social media because of the color of their skin. I applaud Naomi for making her statement.
“These situations are bigger than sports. For one day, for professional sports to pause in recognition of what happened to Mr. Blake, it speaks volumes. Change does not happen overnight, but this sends a global statement to everyone that Black Lives Matter. It’s great to see that tennis is standing in solidarity with the other sports.”
Art Carrington, activist, tennis coach and former ATP pro:
“I came up in the ‘60s, inspired by people like Muhammad Ali. I think it’s great that the athletes use their platform to express the injustices that are going on. If you always separate your politics and your athletics, you’ll never say anything. To speak out is better than to not speak. I was an activist myself. My students know that’s a part of me: You know an authentic Black man.”
Lenny Simpson, mentored by Arthur Ashe and founder and executive director of One Love Tennis (Wilmington, NC):
“That’s a very, very bold statement. It’s a courageous statement. I respect that about her. I love that she’s not afraid to use her intelligence and her athletic endeavors as a platform. I have to disagree with her about one statement she made: I don’t see all that’s happening with police and the killing of Black men all over this country as genocide. That’s a little strong for me. But I do see it as pure sin.
“As far as having no tennis goes, I think it’s the right thing to do. It’s a great show of being united in this cause and this horrible situation. So my question is, after not playing the games, where do we go after this? Are we really going to get our hands dirty and do something about this the right way? This is about everyone.
“Knowing Arthur the way I knew him, here’s what he would have said to people in the tennis world: ‘Not bad, Osaka.’ That was his way of saying, ‘That’s a great start, but you’ve got to tell me where your finish is.’”
Rosie Casals, one of the “Original Nine” that started women’s professional tennis in 1970:
“If you feel strongly about something, you’ve got to make people know. She’s making a very bold statement. Where would we be without us having made a statement 50 years ago?”
Lendale Johnson, actor-activist, head pro-director of The Johnson High Performance Tennis Academy:
“I felt really proud that we have someone like that on the WTA to address what just happened. Osaka is making such a statement and paying tribute to her ethnic background. I feel like the media has whitewashed her ethnicity and has focused so much more on her Japanese background than her Black side.
“Naomi needs to stand with her now empty former statement and not play. Playing on Friday shows she’s being used by the USTA/WTA. All athletes not playing shows true support against the genocide of my people.”
Ray Benton, national executive director, National Junior Tennis League (1971-’77) and CEO of JTCC:
“It was a brave and wonderful move she made. It’s important that we react to things, but it’s even more powerful when we’re proactive. What she did was terrific. It brings more attention and it makes people think about how they can make an impact.”