The May 25th murder of George Floyd sent shock waves throughout the United States and the international community. A video of his arrest depicted police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the 46-year-old man's neck for nearly nine minutes. The violent footage shocked American society and enraged advocates who demanded Chauvin and the accompanying officers be arrested and charged for the murder. The officers were eventually arrested, and Chauvin is now facing a charge of second degree murder. More recently, former coworkers of Chauvin claimed he often acted aggressively at a club where he provided part-time security and appeared to be “afraid and intimidated” by African Americans.

The incident sparked international protests condemning police brutality and racial injustice. The demonstrations, which sometimes turned violent, took place in all 50 American states. While events are still ongoing, it appears that the death of George Floyd may effect changes in policing while improving racial equality.

Although geographically far-removed from the epicenter of social unrest surrounding Floyd’s murder, Japanese residents have also taken to the streets to stand in solidarity with protesters seeking an end to injustice. Demonstrations in Tokyo and Osaka were attended by thousands of protestors. Although there has been no official reaction by the Japanese government, celebrities like Haitian-Japanese tennis player Noami Osaka are voicing support despite backlash online.

Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka was born in 1997 to her Haitian father and Japanese mother. According to her website, she began playing tennis professionally in 2013 at the age of 16 and was quickly noted as a "rising star." In 2014, she joined the Women’s Tennis Association championship where she defeated Samantha Stosur.

Throughout 2016, she continued to do well in tournaments while cementing her popularity. She became the 2016 “Newcomer of the Year.” In 2018, she became the first Japanese woman to win the Indian Wells Master in California. However, her Grand Slam tournament victory later in the same year, was unfortunately overshadowed by Serena William’s now infamous meltdown. William’s, during her losing bid against Osaka, argued with and threatened officials after being accused of cheating.

Osaka Speaks Out

Following the George Floyd incident, Naomi Osaka has used SNS platforms like Twitter to speak out about police brutality and other issues surrounding racial inequality. She retweeted videos of Floyd being restrained and asphyxiated, and commented about the developing protests and the public’s reaction to the aftermath.

Clearly, she is adamant in using her platform to voice her opinion. She has also called out pundits and other keyboard warriors with views antithetical to her own.

With over half a million followers on Twitter alone, Naomi definitely has a soap-box from which to speak. Yet, she entered most people’s lives through sports. Like with Colin Kaepernick, a number of netizens are expressing disappointment in her political stance while—sometimes not so subtly—suggesting she stick to playing sports.

“Stay in Your Lane”

With emotions high, Osaka has experienced notable backlash for her support of protestors and the Black Lives Matter movement. Under her own admission, she has received a lot of trolling and inflammatory comments. And apparently nervous glances from her agent every time she touches her phone.

Nevertheless, it seems like the entirety of her situation is all part and parcel of being a celebrity for the 22 year-old tennis champion. She recently told Reuters “I’m vocal because I believe in the movement and want to try to use my platform to facilitate change.” She continued, “George Floyd’s murder and the situation generally in America has had a big impact on me. Being silent is never the answer. Everyone should have a voice in the matter and use it.”

In the article, Osaka seems to draw inspiration from Colin Kaepernick, who was largely ostracized from the NFL after taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustices in the United States. Despite being told to “stay in her lane,” she has attended protests in her current city of LA.

She also appears to be unfazed by her standing as an athlete. “Colin has been putting this message out since 2016. It took a pandemic, an economic crisis, and a torturous murder on camera, all at the same time, for people to really hear him," she noted. “It shouldn’t have been that way. If the NFL wants to show that they really care the first thing they should do is take a knee together and give Colin his job back. That some people have said we as athletes should stick to sports is really insulting.”

Fortunately, Osaka seems unlikely to change her activist standing any time soon. She largely seems unconcerned with the criticism surrounding her while quickly pointing to her use of humor to highlight the confused intentions of others. As someone potentially effected by the inequality central to the current political protests, her decision to not remain silent will likely help pave their way.

By - Luke Mahoney.