Aussie tennis great-turned commentator Rennae Stubbs has been called out for an “appalling” question regarding Naomi Osaka’s Black Lives Matter protest at the US Open.
Osaka played powerful tennis to defeat Shelby Rogers in straight sets and return to the US Open semi-finals on Tuesday.
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Fourth-seeded Osaka's sharp serving and superior return game was on show as she accounted for unseeded American Rogers 6-3, 6-4 in one hour and 20 minutes as she bids to regain the title she won in 2018.
But one of the biggest talking points to Osaka’s run is the masks she has been wearing in support of Black Lives Matter.
Osaka has worn the names of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin when entering or exiting the court in the last few weeks.
On Wednesday, Osaka walked onto court wearing a mask bearing the name of George Floyd, the black man whose death at the hands of police sparked anti-racism protests across the world.
This prompted Stubbs to tell the tennis star she was “trying to guess what name is going to be on the masks every single day” and asked for a clue on what name she would wear next.
Osaka responded claiming “it was a feeling” when she chose the mask.
But the question was labelled “appalling” and “insensitive” on social media.
Still cannot believe that Naomi Osaka wearing the names of black people killed by police and others on her masks in order to amplify racial injustices led to this line of questioning. pic.twitter.com/K3NhBaQTzV— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) September 9, 2020
Tonight's tonally bizarre on-court interview notwithstanding, ESPN has done a tremendous job in the moments I've seen in following Osaka's lead on this topic and getting her message across in a way she would want.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) September 9, 2020
Credit to them for that. #USOpen
Rennae Stubbs just said “we can wait to see what mask you’ll wear next!!” As if she doesn’t understand that those are the names of actual black people who’ve been killed. Please don’t let that go un-checked!— Dolly (@Dolly42235841) September 9, 2020
Hey Rennae- You’ve gotta own up to the inappropriateness of the “guess the name” part of the Osaka interview, please.— chris webb (@seejaywon) September 9, 2020
Oooof, appalling to see @rennaestubbs tell Naomi Osaka that she had been trying to guess which name Naomi would wear on her next mask. This isn’t trivia; these are dead Black people wtf— Mary-Lynn (@marylynncesar) September 9, 2020
I always mute ESPN tennis commentary for lots of reasons, but I just heard what Rennae Stubbs asked Naomi and I'm not surprised 🤦🏾♂️— Justin 👨🏾💻 (@JSamps27) September 9, 2020
Your line of questioning about Osakas masks are so insensitive and insulting to her advacocy, its not a game— Kachi Snr (@stunningblk) September 9, 2020
Stubbs defends Naomi Osaka interview
But Stubbs defended her interview and claimed she “meant well” and was hoping to raise awareness.
“Of course i meant well, the parents of these victims are so thankful that Naomi is doing this,” Stubbs wrote after the backlash.
“We even have them on video talking about it. I think the victims would love to know we are NOT FORGETTING THIER NAMES! I would never disparage them! If u know me u would know that.”
Of course i meant well, the parents of these victims are so thankful that Naomi is doing this. We even have them on video talking about it. I think the victims would love to know we are NOT FORGETTING THIER NAMES! I would never disparage them! If u know me u would know that— Rennae Stubbs (@rennaestubbs) September 9, 2020
The US Open later showed footage of Trayvon Martin’s mother and Ahmaud Arbery’s father, two of the names she has worn on her masks, thank Osaka for her unwavering support.
I often wonder if what I’m doing is resonating and reaching as many people as I hope. That being said, I tried to hold it in on set but after watching these back I cried so much. The strength and the character both of these parents have is beyond me. Love you both, thank you ❤️ https://t.co/FSDLtWNJDr— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) September 9, 2020
Osaka admitted she was overwhelmed with emotion when watching the videos back after she exited the arena.
“I often wonder if what I’m doing is resonating and reaching as many people as I hope,” she wrote on Twitter.
“That being said, I tried to hold it in on set but after watching these back I cried so much. The strength and the character both of these parents have is beyond me. Love you both, thank you.”