Tennis star Naomi Osaka said she cried after receiving video messages from the parents of Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery following a U.S. Open quarterfinals win on Tuesday. Throughout the tournament, Osaka has beenwith the names of Martin, Arbery and other Black people whose deaths have inspired calls for racial justice.
During a post-match interview on ESPN, a video of Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, was played for Osaka, thanking her for spreading awareness. Martin was a Black teen who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch member in Florida in 2012.
“I just want to say thank you to Naomi Osaka for representing Trayvon Martin on your customized mask and also for Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor,” Fulton said. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Continue to do well. Continue to kick butt at the U.S. Open.”
In another video message, Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, Sr. had appreciative words for Osaka. His son was fatally shot in February after he was chased by White men while he was jogging in a Georgia neighborhood.
“God bless you for what you’re doing and you supporting our family with my son. My family really, really appreciates that, and God bless you,” Arbery said.
After watching the videos for the first time, Osaka said their messages “means a lot.”
“They’re so strong,” she said on ESPN. “I’m not sure what I would be able to do if I was in their position. I feel like I’m a vessel at this point in order to spread awareness and hopefully, it’s not going to dull the pain, but hopefully I can help with anything that they need.”
Upon further reflection, she said on Twitter that she cried after re-watching the videos.
“I often wonder if what I’m doing is resonating and reaching as many people as I hope,” she wrote. “That being said, I tried to hold it in on set but after watching these back I cried so much. The strength and the character both of these parents have is beyond me. Love you both, thank you.”
Osaka, who was named the highest paid female athlete in the world this year, also wore masks with the names of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and George Floyd. Her goal is to wear seven, which coincides with the amount of victories she needs to win the U.S. Open.
Her latest win comes two weeks after Osaka took a public stand by saying she would refuse to play her semifinal during the Western & Southern Open. She joined athletes in other sports who walked out to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a police officer in Wisconsin.