Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff have been “able to communicate really effectively” in a period which has seen protests against racial injustice take place in the middle of a global pandemic, says tennis great Pam Shriver.
Gauff used her voice to urge people to vote and speak out against racism in an emotional speech during a protest in her hometown of Delray Beach, Florida.
The 16-year-old, who rocketed to fame by beating her idol Venus Williams at Wimbledon in 2019, said she was inspired by her grandmother.
Osaka honoured seven Black Americans who were killed in a situation of police violence or racial profiling throughout her run at US Open, using her platform to protest against the injustice.
“They’ve been great young leaders in the last eight to 10 months in a difficult time,” Shriver, a former US Open finalist, told Sky Sports.
“They’re both obviously of colour and they come at it at a different perspective than say I would as a person who grew up with what you might call white privilege.
“I think they’ve been able to communicate really effectively. Gauff is not yet 17 and she was asked to speak at a Black Lives Matter peaceful protest in her home state of Florida towards the beginning of the pandemic. She did so off the cuff, but beautifully.
“She has all the makings of a great leader for women’s tennis for a long time.”
Shriver points to the legendary Billie Jean King in being a spokesperson for equality, and she feels Osaka has come out of her shell to become a leader in her own right.
“What Naomi Osaka did at the US Open, to walk out there in her first match with the mask of a victim of police brutality and then to say she had a total of seven masks. We all know in a total draw of 128 so if you’re going to win it you have got to win seven matches. And what does she end up doing? She ends up winning the US Open, so all seven names were able to come out on the court with her,” said the former world No 3.
“During a time when a lot of athletes were able to use their platform for peaceful protesting that was one of the more effective ways and really brave. She put herself right out there and she ended up winning the US Open.
“I like the fact that Naomi has come out of her shy shell and she realises that given her ethnicity, her background, she can be a really great and effective spokesperson for a lot of people.”
Players are now able to use social media to help promote their own messages, compared to the 1980s when Shriver relied on a public relations person.
Both Osaka and Gauff have used social media effectively, but Shriver has warned it can be so easily mishandled.
“Back in our day, if we wanted to get a word out we would have a PR person who worked for the WTA tour. It’s a whole different ball game now with social media, with players for good or bad, who can control their own message right out to their fan base and to the media,” added American Shriver.
“It’s kind of crazy how the world has changed but it’s also understanding social media and what we’ve gone through in this country in the last couple of weeks (with the storming of Capitol Hill) knowing how social media can be a divisive issue amongst millions of people.
“It becomes a little bit disturbing so we all have to understand all parts of social media, not just how if affects us but how it affects movements and groups of people sometimes for the good, but sometimes not.”