Naomi Osaka is reminding people that athletes are not only meant to be seen, but they should be heard too.
The cover star for the latest issue of Dazed magazine, Osaka opened up about her decision to speak up about important issues such as mental health and her support for anti-racism.
“I think as high-level athletes, we are accustomed to being trained to win at all costs, but actually there are more important things in life, and it doesn’t define who we are as people,” she told Dazed. “It’s a big change, but also quite subtle at the same time.”
Osaka has always held a firm position when it comes to protecting her mental health, even when it came at a cost. Last year, the 24-year-old received a $15,000 fine when she pulled out from participating in post-match interviews during the French Open because she said they can be detrimental to the health of the players. Following her decision, she went on to voluntarily withdraw from competing in the Grand Slam tournament to “take some time away from the court” and prioritize her mental and emotional wellbeing.
For the four-time Grand Slam champion, the turning point that sparked her advocacy came in the wake of the racial reckoning of 2020 and the protests that came with it. During that year’s French Open, she was spotted wearing a collection of masks with the names Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile, and Tamir Rice — most victims of police violence. “Looking back, I think that was definitely the first time I realized that I had a voice, and it could be used in a positive way,” she shares. “I just went with my instincts.”
The tennis star went on to share that she is unbothered by the public scrutiny that she receives from speaking up about matters that fall outside of her role as a rising sports figure and finds those stances to be outdated. Osaka is leading a new generation of athletes who are unapologetic about utilizing their platforms to share their stances on social issues, including the mental health crisis facing many in this country, and she won’t be deterred by critics. “It’s archaic and ignorant, but it doesn’t bother me too much now,” she explained. “To be upset at an athlete expressing an opinion is bizarre to me.”