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Vogue cover girl Naomi Osaka: raising awareness and finding her level

In a new cover piece for Vogue Magazine, Naomi Osaka reflects on a difficult yet productive 2020, and what drove her to take a stand for social justice.

Naomi Osaka during the Western and Southern Open 2020, with a Black Lives Matter shirt Naomi Osaka during the Western and Southern Open 2020, with a Black Lives Matter shirt

Naomi Osaka appears on the cover of Vogue Magazine’s January edition, dressed fabulously in a Louis Vuitton dress, which fabled photographer Annie Leibovitz has captured elegantly. It’s another moment that gives the three-time Grand Slam champion a chance to speak to the world, and these are opportunities that Osaka no longer dreads. Once a shy, introverted teenager, the 23-year-old has blossomed into a confident woman who speaks with authority on social issues, mental health and anything else that comes to mind.  

In the article “Leading by Example: How Naomi Osaka Became the People’s Champion” Osaka sprinkles in fresh flakes of wisdom onto the mixed salad of perspiration and inspiration that was moving enough to earn her the honor of becoming one of five athletes to be named as SI’s 2020 “Sportsperson of the Year.”

Osaka is one of just five tennis players to have ever received the honor, and it is her activist streak that puts her on par with sporting heavyweights like LeBron James and Patrick Mahomes in the public eye. Furthermore, it is her willingness to walk the walk that earns her street cred with her legions of fans. 

Unafraid to stand for change

This year at the Western and Southern Open she was the driving force behind tennis’ decision to stop play for a day in the name of racial justice. 

“I was playing my matches,” Osaka recalls in the article, “and I saw what the NBA was doing, and then I saw what Lewis Hamilton [the Formula One world champion] was saying, and then I was thinking to myself, Wow, tennis really doesn’t do this at all.”

Even in a year that saw the sporting world take a hit due to the coronavirus pandemic, Osaka had the presence of mind to recognize an opportunity this summer. She then combined the power of the #BLM movement with the power of television, and made a stunning statement to the world.

She told Vogue that her desire to raise awareness is what motivated her to wear seven different masks, one for each victory at the 2020 US Open, each adorned with the name of a different black American who had fallen victim to violence. 

 “I was just thinking that I had this opportunity to raise awareness,” she said. “Tennis is watched all around the world, so people who might not know these names can google them and learn their stories. That was a big motivator for me, and I think it helped me win the tournament.”

The pandemic gave her a chance to make personal growth

2020 has been tough on the sport and the world as a whole, but Osaka says the pandemic, however difficult, has taught her new things about herself. She took advantage of the time to take her mind off of tennis, develop her knowledge base and find balance in her life. 

 “As tennis players, we’re so hyper-focused on what happens on the court, and we think our life is sort of determined by whether we win a match or not,” she says. “That’s not true. I think that the pandemic gave me the chance to go into the real world and do things that I wouldn’t have done without it.”

“I used to think that everything depended on the game, and now I sort of understand that you have to find balance,” she told Vogue. “I want to become knowledgeable, to have a vast understanding of things, or even lots of tiny things that amount to one big thing. I want to be a nice person to everyone I meet.

“This is putting it in video-game terms, but I think the me right now is sort of at the level 50 of tennis, and everything else in my life is at level five or six. I want to even out my levels.”



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