Coco Gauff & Osaka are more than just tennis players

Feb 23, 2021, 1:54 PM | Article By: Lamin Drammeh, multiple award-winning journalist and former sports editor, The Point Newspaper

The things that impressed the world about these phenomenal youngsters beyond their tennis practices, include but not limited to their racial sensitization, creating awareness on issues of racial discrimination against the Black minority in America.

They have been hugely impressive both on and off the courts and their decisions to speak in defense of those that have been unjustly persecuted and have their rights violated because of color has attracted worldwide attention. In other words, their actions and words are creating lasting impressions on issues dealing with racism especially the Black Lives Matter Movement which came into being following the gruesome murder of George Floyd in 2020. 

Mr. Floyd was a 46-year-old black man who was arrested and killed by Minneapolis police officers in connection to an alleged US$20 counterfeit bill. According to unconfirmed reports, Floyd had wanted to spend the money to buy cigarettes when the convenience store employee called 911 to report the matter to the police.  

A series of video footages captured by some bystanders and security cameras showed four police officers arrived at the scene. All four police men rounded up Mr. Floyd in an attempt to arrest him for unjustifiable reason. There was no evidence which suggest Mr. Floyd had indeed bought cigarettes with counterfeit money as alleged at the time of his arrest. 

Additionally, there was no indication that Mr. Floyd was trying to resist arrest by the police as initially claimed by the Minnesota police department. The police were seen forcefully pinning Mr. Floyd on to the ground beneath four police officers. Floyd was heard screaming for his life, saying, “I can’t breath”, multiple times. Despite several pleas for mercy, the policemen showed no signs of letting him go free as he fought to save his life. One of the police officers who was later identified as Derek Chauvin, was clearly seen on videotape pressing his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes with the help of three other police officers. Mr. Floyd later became unconscious, lying on to the ground lifelessly as onlookers called out for help but to no avail. 

He was later pronounced dead upon arrival at the Minneapolis hospital through the intervention of the paramedics who arrived at the scene in a desperate attempt to save his life. Following investigation into the matter, Mr. Chuvin was found to have acted negligently and unlawfully in the performance of his duty as a police officer. 

He was subsequently charged for 3rd degree murder which was later increased to 2nd degree murder amidst nationwide outcry. Three other officers who were on the scene during Mr. Floyd’s killing also faced charges of aiding and abetting second - degree murder. 

The tragic incident attract global condemnation especially in America,  as millions including Naomi Osaka, and Coco Gauff added their voice on the Black Lives Matter Movement, calling an immediate end to persistent police brutality against African America. “I was just thinking that I had this opportunity to raise awareness about Black Lives Matter Movement. Tennis is watched all around the world so people who might not know these names can Google them and learn about their stories,” says Naomi, as she responds to questions about her decision to wear face masks showing names of black victims of police brutality at the U.S. open last year. 

Naomi, an American resident who represents Japan at the tennis level, along with her boyfriend rapper Cordae, flew to Minneapolis to join the Black Lives Matter protest days after George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020. 

Gauff made a public appearance for the first time in strong condemnation of police brutality as she gave a powerful speech at a Black Lives Matter rally in her hometown of Delray Beach, Florida, accompanied by her Grandmother Yvonne Odom. Gauff said: “I’m not of age to vote but it is in your hands to vote for my future, for my brothers’ future and for your future. So I’m here to tell you guys that we must first love each other no matter what. We must have the tough conversation with our non-black friends to effect change now. I think it’s sad that I’m here protesting the same things that (my grandmother) did 50 plus years ago.”

Her speech was viewed more than million times across the world and has earned her respect and admiration in her native America and beyond.

Coming back to Osaka, she has been the most impressive young female player on tour. This is largely due to her steady rise to prominence following her triumphant achievements at the US and Australian Open. The 23-year-old Japanese superstar has won four Grand Slam titles in the space of four years - two in each of the aforementioned tournaments - propelling her into becoming the most decorated youngster on tour at the moment. 

Coco on the other hand has created a historic record needed to pave a clear path to glory. She became the youngest winner of the Linz Open in 15 years following her victory over Jalena Ostapenko in the 2019 final - in addition to two Grand Slam quarterfinals and two doubles winners titles to her collection.

Gauff burst on to the scene with a magical run to the fourth round of her maiden debut at Wimbledon, knocking veteran Venus Williams out of the tournament in straight sets. She was the youngest player to qualify for the Wimbledon’s main draw and the youngest player to reach the R-4, since fellow American Jennifer Capriati’s spectacular run to the semifinals in 1991. 

Having reached two Grand slam quarterfinals in quick succession and a third round achievement at the U.S. Open in 2019, Coco remained one of the most talented youngsters in the game. 

If these achievements are anything to go by, top 50 could soon become top 10 and God knows what could happen in not too long amount of time for the 16-year-old sensation whose rapid rise to stardom has been the best tennis story in recent times.