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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Monday December 7, 2020

 
Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka has been named SI's Sportsperson of the Year, the fifth tennis player to receive the honor.

Naomi Osaka has become the fifth tennis player to win the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year award (since 1954).

Tennis Express

The 23-year-old three-time Grand Slam champion made strong statements in 2020 with her support of racial justice and human rights, and backed up her efforts with a stunning run to the US Open title. Perhaps even bigger than the title was Osaka's leadership on the social justice front. With America and the world reeling in the aftermath of George Floyd's death and the growing protests that followed, Osaka drew attention to the cause when she wore a different mask during each of her seven matches at the 2020 US Open, each adorned with the name of a black person who had been victimized by violence.


“I just want to spread awareness,” was what Osaka told the press after her first round in New York. “I'm aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone that doesn't know Breonna Taylor's story. Maybe they'll like Google it or something. For me, just spreading awareness. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they'll become in it.”

Osaka is part of a five-person group that received this year’s award. She joins Patrick Mahomes, quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, Lebron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, WNBA star Breanna Stewart and NFL player Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, also of the Kansas City Chiefs.

“Our Sportsperson of the Year award goes to five men and women who in 2020 were champions in every sense of the word: champions on the field, champions for others off it,” the magazine said.

A reluctant voice at first, Osaka has stepped into her role as an agent of enlightenment and change among her tennis peers. Osaka courageously refused to separate her humanity from her athleticism and shook the tennis world when she helped force a shutdown during the Western and Southern Open this summer in New York.

Weeks later she would return to the court, spurred by her passion for the cause, as the families of the seven people she brought to the attention of the public cheered her efforts and thanked her, tears in their eyes as they witnessed their loved ones celebrated as more than just names. With Osaka's help they have become a meaningful part of a movement that has more momentum than it had before.

“She brought so much attention to their stories,” wrote Martina Navratilova, in an op-ed for SI. “Naomi’s not someone you can dismiss as just a liberal whatever. This wasn’t political. She was humanizing the enormous problem of police violence against Black people in America. This was about fairness. This was about human rights.”

 

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