Activist, champion: Naomi Osaka is AP Female Athlete of Year
With tennis, like so many other countries in the world, closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Naomi Osaka had time to read and reflect.
And while she won the US Open for her third Grand Slam title, she also stood out for speaking out on racial injustice and police brutality.
Osaka was named Sportswoman of the Year by The Associated Press in 2020. The results were announced on Sunday following a vote by the AP members' sports editors and AP beatwriters.
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"It was difficult to be isolated from my family for much of the year, but that is nothing compared to others. It was sad to see the news of people suffering from COVID-19 and the economic and social impact on it lots of people to see and read - job loss, mental health. It's been such a tough year for so many people, "wrote Osaka in an email interview." And then when I like the injustices of the police over the summer Seeing George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake (to name a few) broke my heart, I'm proud of my win at the US Open, but more than that, of getting people to think about the real problems speak. "
Osaka garnered 18 of 35 votes in first place for a total of 71 points.
WNBA Finals MVP Breanna Stewart finished next with nine votes in first place and 60 points, followed by Sarah Fuller, the Vanderbilt soccer player, who entered with one vote in first place and 24 points for the school’s soccer team.
LeBron James was named AP Male Athlete of the Year on Saturday.
Billie Jean King, a 12-time Grand Slam individual title winner and a pioneering advocate for decades, praised Osaka for "positioning itself as a leader not just in women's tennis, but in all sports and as a force for change in our society".
"She has successfully completed the difficult task of excelling at athletic performance and using this platform to be successful on a much larger stage outside of sport," King told the AP. “It sparked a conversation about social justice, the results of which were bigger than tennis, bigger than sport, raising the bar for those who want to use the gifts and talents we have to make a difference in our world . ”
Osaka went 16-3 during the coronavirus-shortened tennis calendar - the professional tours lasted approximately five months; Wimbledon was canceled for the first time since 1945 - and ended the year in third place.
The pivotal period of Osaka's season came in August and September when they put together an eleven-game winning streak that included the US Open.
During a tuning tournament in New York, Osaka - whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese - declared she would not play her semi-finals and joined athletes from the NBA and other countries to oppose the police shooting of Blake protest.
“There are clearly so many worthy subjects. This appealed to me particularly because of my personal upbringing; and even while the tennis tour was interrupted, for the first time in my life I was able to see and read the news in detail. Tensions were high and boiling in the US that summer, ”Osaka said. "It was the right time for me to express myself."
The tournament took their lead and was completely closed for one day.
"Your activism has shown how we, as individuals and sports leagues, can make a difference together," said Steve Simon, chairman and CEO of WTA. “Not only is she a phenomenal tennis player, but she also shows how athletes have the opportunity to use their platform for something bigger than the game or themselves. Her actions are downright inspiring and she really deserves this recognition. "
During the US Open, Osaka caught the attention of black victims of violence by using face masks named Floyd, Taylor, Tamir Rice, Elijah McClain, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery and Philando Castile to match sticks.
"To be honest, I really didn't stop thinking about what others would think of my actions. Other people's opinions wouldn't stop me from doing what I know in my heart was the right thing," Osaka said "The strong voices of Colin (Kaepernick) and LeBron were certainly positive influences for me and gave me strength in my own convictions."
In 2021, the 23-year-old Osaka listed the following goals: "Work hard, do better, speak up, be friendly."
Japan, where she was born, is slated to host the postponed Olympics next year.
"I'm really looking forward to being with the athletes who have waited and trained for over 10 years to celebrate a very tough year (2020), and doing that in Japan makes it all the more special," said Osaka. "It's a special and beautiful country full of culture, history and beauty. I can't be more excited."
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich
More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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