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Naomi Osaka becomes first female Black athlete on a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover

Scott Gleeson
USA TODAY

Naomi Osaka appears on the cover of this year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition, becoming the first female Black athlete to do so. 

Osaka's cover comes on the heels of her controversial withdrawal from the French Open after decision to not speak with media to protect her mental health. The four-time Grand Slam champion is poised to compete in the Tokyo Games later this month. 

SI Swimsuit editor-in-chief MJ Day said in a statement: "There’s no question that Naomi is one of the best athletes in the world, and a cover spot felt obvious. She’s spent her formative years racking up titles and is headed to the Olympics. But we celebrate Naomi for her passion, strength and power geared towards consistently breaking barriers when it comes to equality, social justice, and mental health."

Naomi Osaka at a tournament earlier this year.

Osaka shares the history-making cover with two other models – rapper Megan Thee Stallion and activist Leyna Bloom. 

“If there’s one thing that our cover models have in common, it’s that they don’t have one thing in common. They look different, have different upbringings, have different passions and inspirations. But each is a reminder that beauty comes in many forms," Day said in a statement. 

Sports Illustrated magazine cover image for 2021 Swimsuit issue on sale July 22 featuring a photo of Naomi Osaka by Yu Tsai.

Osaka recently had her own Barbie doll sell out last week. The 23-year-old has had both a national and global impact, having been heavily involved in the Black Lives Matter movement and regularly showcasing her Japanese roots. She is representing Japan at the Tokyo Olympic Games. She was named Sports Illustrated's sportsperson of the year in 2020 for her activism. 

Osaka recently opened up about her mental health in describing what prompted her to withdraw from the French Open and calling for the sport to better accommodate its athletes. She said standing up for her mental health was "all worth it."