Right from age 15, after turning pro, tennis star @naomiosaka has been racking up trophies and accolades, now at age 23, four Grand Slams, title of highest-paid female athlete ever in 2020 — the Japan-born phenom is proudly taking her seat as an activist and role model.
Tennis star Naomi Osaka makes PEOPLE’s Women Changing the World list this year. In a chat with the mag, she opens up on feeling a responsibility to use her platform to speak up and out for causes she believes in.
Established as an active voice in activism, at the 2020 U.S. Open, Osaka wore a different face mask each day to honor the memories of Breonna Taylor, Treyvon Martin, George Floyd and other victims of police brutality and racial profiling.
“Even though it can be at times risky or scary, I know that it’s the right thing to do,” Osaka tells PEOPLE in the latest issue. “It meant a lot to me that I could carry on their legacies. I was playing with a different purpose, which helped me stay focused and put things into perspective. I didn’t know what the response was going to be going into the tournament but in retrospect, I’m proud of and humbled by the reaction from the public and the media.”
Fresh off her second Australian Open championship in three years — her fourth Grand Slam title to date, Osaka is also actively invested in making an impact outside the tennis court.
“At times, I still feel like a kid so it feels like a lot of responsibility!” she admits, but also recognizes the privilege that comes with her position. “Billie Jean King says that ‘pressure is a privilege,'” Osaka says, quoting her mentor and women’s rights icon. “It’s always helpful to remind myself that at the end of the day, I love tennis and consider myself lucky to be able to play it professionally, but there are a lot of other things going on in the world and it’s not just about winning or losing.”
Osaka says she values her position as a role model and recently invested in and became a co-owner of the women’s professional soccer team, the North Carolina Courage.
“Generally, in tennis, there is equal prize money distributed amongst the men and women. Unfortunately, it’s one of the only sports where that is the case,” she explains. “I think that women’s soccer is massively underfunded — despite the USWNT [U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team] being much more successful than their male counterparts — so I wanted to get involved because I think that there is so much potential for the league. I hope that in my new role, I can increase inspire women to take leadership positions within organizations as well.”