BNP Paribas Open - Day 6

Source: Clive Brunskill / Getty

Sports fans may feel entitled to attack and heckle athletes on the field of play, but they aren’t. An attendee tried Naomi Osaka during the BNP Paribas Open, and the tennis star did not hold back.   

As reported by the Desert Sun, the heckler was drowned out by other fans supporting Osaka. The chair umpire was unable to identify the person. Osaka asked to address the crowd after the incident during her match with Veronika Kudermatova, but the tournament supervisor declined the request. 

While some may not understand Osaka getting emotional at the words of one person, for an allegedly more “civilized” sport, Tennis is full of ugliness, particularly in the treatment of its Black stars. Who wants someone yelling “you suck” while they are trying to do their best at their job?  

Osaka got emotional when talking about the incident after her match with Kudermatova, comparing it to Serena and Venus Williams being heckled at the BNP Paribas Open.  

“To be be honest, I’ve been heckled before,” Osaka explained after the match. “It didn’t really bother me. But heckled here? Like, I’ve watched a video of Venus and Serena (Williams) get heckled here, and if you’ve never watched it, you should watch it.” 

Singer and writer Pia Glenn tweeted a clip of the offending moment. 

“This is when some dusty soul chose a quiet moment to shout “NAOMI YOU SUCK” at the #IndianWells tennis tournament, which resulted in Naomi Osaka openly crying & asking to address the crowd. Ppl are calling her weak, b/c they’re used to our young BW stars being warriors, not human,” Glenn tweeted.

Sociology Professor Sheldon Applewhite also tweeted the commentators should have spoken out about the heckling.  

@TennisChannel @LDavenport76 @naomiosaka Watching Indian Wells. From what I gather, this person should be removed, and tennis channel and commentators should speak out against this type of behavior. Didn’t Indian Wells learn from a decades long ban from Williams sisters 4 this?” 

For her part, Osaka has been very open about her emotions and mental well-being following her refusal to do press during the French Open. But her reference to the 2001 harassment of the Williams sisters speaks to the pressure facing Black women in the sport who are expected to rise above the racism and bigotry of some fans. 

The Williams sisters boycotted the Indian Wells tournament for nearly 15 years before Serena ended the boycott in 2015. Another player “joked” that Richard Williams, the duo’s father and former coach, decided who would win matches when Serena and Venus compete against each other. The sisters were booed at various points during the tournament, and Venus was even asked if the two fixed their matches during a press conference. Last year, Serena recounted how the 2001 incident still stung 20 years later. 

The misogynoir experienced by Black women athletes do not slow down once they are on the world stage. In many ways, it has become even more intense. Osaka may not have won this time, but she continues to shine and show us that athletes are people and deserve our respect 


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Naomi Osaka Chokes Back Tears As She Addresses Heckling During BNP Paribas Open  was originally published on