Many top players have added their voices to the protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American 46-year-old who died on 25 May in Minneapolis after being pinned beneath a white police officer’s knee for nearly nine minutes, plunging the country into wave upon wave of violent demonstrations.
There comes a time when silence is betrayal. Just because it doesn’t happen to you doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Naomi Osaka
Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic were among those showing their solidarity with ‘Blackout Tuesday’ across social media, while Naomi Osaka tweeted: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal. Just because it doesn’t happen to you doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”
The protests have spread to other countries, with peaceful demonstrations of solidarity taking place in London and other cities.
US demonstrations, however, have destroyed property, injured many and deteriorated into widespread looting as American frustrations over race relations and repercussions resulting from the coronavirus pandemic erupted into violence.
“When you tweet about the lootings before you tweet about the death of an unarmed black man…” Osaka added in a post on Monday.
Osaka joins other sports figures in speaking out against racism and police violence, including basketball great Michael Jordan and Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton.
Amanda Animisova is the latest American to comment when the 18 year old posted a video on her social media account: “What is going on right now is absolutely insane. I totally stand by everyone who is protesting and trying to spread awareness.
“I am trying to send a message, our system is broken, and racial injustice still exists and that’s crazy.
“We shouldn’t be living in a world like that. So I thought to send a message and do my part because this is important. Change needs to happen,
“I can’t believe we still live in a world like this.
“Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed.”
Anisimova joined Coco Gauff, Osaka, Serena Williams and Nick Kyrgios amongst others who have spoken out about racial discrimination in the United States.
Former tennis star James Blake says he never suspected the large man running toward him was a plainclothes New York City policeman when he was taken down outside the official hotel during the US Open five years ago.
“I thought someone was running at me that was a fan, someone that was going to say, ‘Hey I saw you play so and so, I was at this match, my kid plays tennis,'” Blake recalled. “I’m smiling with my hands down.”
Blake, who is black, was mistakenly identified as a suspect in a credit card fraud scheme and a video showed the undercover officer grabbing him by the arm, throwing him to the pavement face down and handcuffing him.
“I went to bed very sad and very deflated, seeing this over and over again,” Blake said on Tuesday from his home in San Diego.
“I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t stop my mind from racing, thinking about the events that took place there, the events that took place with me in 2015.
“It saddens me to see that kind of policing is still going on, that kind of brutality, particularly how often it is aimed at the black and brown community.”
Blake, a Harvard alum who reached a career-high ranking of No. 4 and is now Tournament Director of the Miami Open, said the 2015 episode transformed him into an ‘accidental activist’.
He began using his celebrity to speak more openly about racism and police brutality.
Voting is one way forward, he says, including in local elections.
He supports peaceful protest, and thinks it is possible no arrest in the Floyd case would have been made without the recent demonstrations in Minneapolis and elsewhere.
He also favours police reform, including higher pay, better training and independent bodies to investigate wrongdoing by officers.
As punishment in the Blake case, the policeman who tackled him was docked five vacation days.
“I don’t think someone like that should have a badge,” Blake said, adding that the scars he bears from his experience cannot be erased.
“I would love to change this, but for the rest of my life, I’m probably going to be more nervous about any encounter I have with a police officer,” he said.
Federer, Nadal and Djokovic also joined the #BlackOutTuesday campaign against racial injustice.
World No 1 Djokovic posted black screenshots on his Twitter and Instagram pages with the message ‘Black Lives Matter’, and was joined by Federer and Nadal, the other members of the Big Three of men’s tennis.
Grand Slam winners Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova and Stan Wawrinka were among other players who signalled their support for the #BlackOutTuesday campaign.
Replying to Federer’s Instagram post, the 16-year-old Gauff commented: “Click the link in my bio to get resources on HOW YOU CAN HELP! THANK YOU.”
Osaka, whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese, said people should be doing more than posting ‘the black square’.
“I’m torn between roasting people for only posting the black square this entire week … or accepting that they could’ve posted nothing at all so I should deal with this bare minimum bread crumb they have given,” she posted on Twitter.
The USTA also posted a black screen shot with a statement against racism on its social media handles, saying it was ‘extremely disappointed, angry, and heartbroken’ at the hardships faced by communities of colour in the United States.
“The African-American community is an integral part of our tennis family and the USTA stands unwaveringly against racism and injustice of any kind,” it added.