Haitian-Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka made headlines during the 2021 French Open but not for her performance. Instead, she shocked—and impressed—many when she made several daring moves including skipping mandatory press conferences, citing the need to prioritize her mental health. The 24-year-old’s actions inspired others in various sports to consider their own health journey. The four-time Grand Slam singles champion has also spoken out in support of social justice organizations, such as the Black Lives Matter movement. Naomi’s efforts both on and off the court earned her the title of “Sportswoman of the Year” award at the BET Awards 2021. Ahead of this year’s celebrations, hosted by actress Taraji P.Henson on Sunday, June 26 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, check out five ways this tennis star is changing the way we view women in sports.
She is clear about the causes she believes in
The Haitian-Japanese star has been a well-known supporter of the Black Lives Movement. However, during the 2020 season, the young athlete began sharing some of her thoughts on injustice on social media. During games, she would wear masks with the names of Black people killed at the hands of police in America.
She supports her fellow female athletes
Three-time Grand Slam Champion invests in North Carolina Courage Women's Professional Soccer Team in Jan .2021. She took to her Twitter account and explained her decision, writing, “Throughout my career I’ve always received so much love from my fellow female athletes so that’s why I am proud to share that I am now a owner of @TheNCCourage.”
She inspires others to prioritize their mental health
In 2021, NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo shared that he had to put off taking care of his mental health throughout his NBA journey. He cited Naomi, who withdrew from the French Open to tend to her health, as an inspiration to redirection his attention to his mental well-being.
She opened up a school for tennis for young children
Tennis is one of the most expensive sports between equipment and training. Knowing the importance of investing in children early, Naomi launched her “Play Academy” Japan and has since opened up a location in Haiti and Los Angeles. The mission was to provide “grants and capacity-building training for community organizations in order to boost girls’ access to and participation in sports.”
She’s setting an example
Before the French Open, Naomi said she wouldn’t participate in mandatory press conferences because she wanted to preserve her mental health. In a Twitter post, the star athlete wrote, “We’re often sat there and asked questions we’ve been asked multiple times before and questions that bring doubt into our minds. She acknowledged that she’d be penalized for declining to appear before the media and said she would pay the “considerable amount I get fined for this” out of pocket.
Tune into the BET Awards 2022 Sunday, June 26 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on BET.