Naomi Osaka Named AP Female Athlete of 2020


Mia V.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, professional sports teams and players have adjusted to playing without fans in the stands. Sports have created a sense of normalcy for many people in a turbulent year, and so many fans were eagerly awaiting the Associated Press’s picks for athletes of the year. Naomi Osaka, a Japanese and Haitian tennis player, won the 2020 US Open, despite her less-than-normal year of tennis. 

Following incidents of police brutality and the BLM protests over the summer, Osaka used her growing platform to spread awareness about the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police. Naomi Osaka gained attention from the press as she rose through the brackets of the US Open wearing masks with the names of Black Americans such as George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery who were killed at the hands of police. 

In an interview, Naomi Osaka noted that she hadn’t considered what response she would receive from the public. “To be honest, I really didn’t stop to think about what others would think of my actions. Other people’s opinions weren’t going to stop me from doing what I know in my heart was the right thing to do.” The tennis player said she was inspired by athletes like Lebron James and Colin Kapernick, who have famously protested racism and police brutality using their platform in professional sports. In August, amongst NBA strikes, Naomi Osaka stated she would not play at the US Cincinnati Master’s Open to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake. The entire tournament ended up shutting down for a day, following Naomi’s example. 

The 23-year-old tennis player collected her third Grand Slam title this year, winning the US Open as part of an 11-match winning streak. Naomi Osaka competed in four tournaments in 2020, including the US Open which she won for the second time. She became the first player in her category to win the US Open after recovering from a set (multiple games) loss. The Associated Press (AP) has an annual vote to decide who will be named a top athlete, with sports editors and writers contributing to the decision-making process. Lebron James was voted the Male Athlete of 2020 alongside Naomi Osaka, who won Female Athlete of 2020. Other candidates for AP female athlete were basketball player Breanna Stewart and Sarah Fuller, a soccer player and football kicker. The choice of Naomi Osaka for Best Female Athlete gives inspiration to youth, women, and athletes of color. Osaka’s win challenges these groups to not only be their best athletically, but also to use their voices to speak up about what they care about.