Women’s tennis player and 39-time Grand Slam winner Billie Jean King once said– “sports are a microcosm of society.” The entertaining displays of uniform-clad superhumans broadcasting through our TVs and ESPN apps are part of a much bigger game: a multi-billion dollar industry that has shaped history alongside the transformative lives of the athletes it elevates to celebrity status.
When professional sports begin to live in our family rooms, bedrooms, everyday conversations, online forums, and careers, the line between politics and sports becomes blurred more and more each day. Sports reflect human rights issues like the wage gap, racial disparities, and sexism—issues that some may deem political—because athletes are humans.
This is why, at 76 years old, King still fights for equality in the sports world, championing the newer generation of athletes who have caught the baton she passed in 1970 when she began fusing activism with athleticism. King publicly cheers for Naomi Osaka, a 22-year-old three-time Grand Slam winner, who recently showed her support for the Black Lives Matter movement on a global stage.
Osaka, the Black and Asian child of Haitian and Japanese decent, arrived at all seven rounds of the 2020 U.S. Open donning a mask reading the name of a wrongfully murdered Black American. After beating idol Serena Williams and winning her first Grand Slam in 2018, Osaka cried and was booed off the court. However, a stronger, more vocal Osaka soon emerged to fight her way to the 2020 U.S. Open, bearing the names of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile, and Tamir Rice plastered across her face.
The point, according to Osaka, was to make people start talking.
“Everything that I was doing off the court was sort of on the court at the same time too. It made me stronger because I felt like I have more desire to win because I want to show more names,” she said.
Osaka’s activism continued following the U.S. Open at last month’s Western & Southern Open semi-finals after she opted out of a match in protest of Jacob Blake’s murder. Similarly, NBA and WNBA athletes began participating in their own form of protesting while in the game.
Lewis Hamilton, Formula One’s only Black race driver, also utilized fashion for protest purposes in July. While all 20 F1 drivers gathered in “End Racism” T-shirts before the Austrian Grand Prix on July 5, Hamilton kneeled in a “Black Lives Matter” tee. He also included the Black Lives Matter logo and slogan on his helmet that day. This month, he wore an “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” T-shirt on the podium at the Tuscan Grand Prix.
Hamilton has long demanded that F1 take more concrete steps to promote diversity. In response, Mercedes has changed its car livery to an all-black design and F1 has launched a task force to improve diversity in the championship. Hamilton has also manned his own social-media campaign in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and started a foundation with the Royal Academy of Engineering that seeks to address F1’s lack of diversity.
“Naomi has been doing amazing, so huge congrats to her, and I think she’s an incredible inspiration with what she’s done with her platform,” Hamilton said. “I think we just have to continue to push on the issue.”
Both Hamilton and Osaka have ties to the fashion industry, so it’s no surprise that they’ve used sartorial expression as a mechanism for change in their respective fields. Hamilton just released the fifth installment of his ongoing fashion collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger, Tommy x Lewis, which focuses on equality and sustainability. Osaka has also just partnered with the Japanese-American brand Adeam on a 10-piece collection for fall, claiming that she enjoys using fashion as a means for freedom of expression beyond just athletic wear.
As sports return to our head spaces in pandemic-era formats—no to crowds, yes to bubbles—athletes across every league are using their platforms to promote human rights. They’re carrying on the early legacies of outspoken athlete-activists like Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and Billie Jean King and following in the footsteps of more recent role models like Serena and Venus Williams and Colin Kaepernick. And these activists seem to approve of today’s new wave, or at least King, who called Osaka “a product of our wishes and dreams,” does.
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createdAt:Fri, 18 Sep 2020 19:31:36 +0000