Naomi Osaka was announced as one of the nominees for the 2021 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year award on Wednesday. But many believe she earned the nomination not just for her tennis, but also because of her social activism.
While speaking recently with the magazine "The Big Issue", Naomi Osaka opened up about a range of topics - from political responsibilities and owning a women's football team, to an anecdote about the late Kobe Bryant.
Osaka has been a path-breaker for women from multicultural backgrounds, winning four Grand Slams in her career already and using her influence to promote social justice. But the Japanese believes there's a lot of work still to be done, and that it shouldn't just be people of color raising their voice against injustice.
"I think that even since then, more athletes and entire leagues have been taking risks in their political stances," Naomi Osaka said. "But there’s a lot more to be done and it will take everyone working together to enact change, not just athletes of colour."
Last year, Naomi Osaka used the platform of the US Open to raise awareness about American African victims of police violence in the country. While that did take an emotional toll on her, the 23-year-old asserted that educating the world about racial injustice meant a lot to her.
"In terms of my decision, it was one that was of course emotional but I knew that I had to do it," Osaka continued. "Because tennis is such an international sport, it meant a lot to me that I got to be the person to teach my international fans who may have never seen those names before about what was going on in America and encourage them to have those hard conversations."
Naomi Osaka's mantra for young women like her: keep your head down, block out the haters and give it your all
During the course of the interview, Naomi Osaka also revealed what advice she would give to young women like herself who were trying to make a name for themselves.
"I think being the first anything is really hard because there is no precedent and there are a lot of people who will doubt you (especially on the internet)," Osaka said. "My advice is to keep your head down, block out the haters and give it your all."
Naomi Osaka then quoted a line by Kobe Bryant, who is widely considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. The Australian Open champion reiterated what Kobe once said about the importance of being focused on your goal, likening the situation to a lion hunting its prey.
"My mentor, Kobe, once talked about how when you see a lion in the wild and it’s hunting, it may have flies around its eyes, but it doesn’t even notice them; it’s completely focused on its kill," Osaka said. "That’s the same here: set your goal and never give in to doubt."
Naomi Osaka also talked about her decision to buy the North Carolina Courage team, which competes in the National Women's Soccer League. The Japanese expressed hope that her involvement with the team would encourage more women to take leadership roles in sports organizations.
"Investing in a women’s soccer team was something that I had been thinking about for quite a while actually," Osaka said. "Tennis is one of the only global sports where there is parity in prize money between men and women so I’ve been particularly motivated to support female athletes in sports where that is not the case."
"My hope for the team is that they continue to inspire the next generation of young girls into believing that they can do anything they put their minds to (often, better than the boys!)," she added. "Also, in terms of my role on the team, I hope that it encourages more women to take leadership roles in organizations."