Activist, champion: Naomi Osaka is AP Female Athlete of Year

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FILE - In this Sept. 12, 2020, file photo, Naomi Osaka, of Japan, holds up the championship trophy after defeating Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, in the women's singles final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. Osaka has been selected by The Associated Press as the Female Athlete of the Year.(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

With tennis, like so much of the world, shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Naomi Osaka found herself with time to read and think.

And while she won the U.S. Open for her third Grand Slam title, she also stood out for speaking out about racial injustice and police brutality.

As noteworthy in 2020 for her activism away from the tennis court as her success on it, Osaka was selected by The Associated Press as the Female Athlete of the Year in results revealed Sunday after a vote by AP member sports editors and AP beat writers.

“It was difficult to be isolated from my family for large parts of the year, but that’s nothing compared to others. It was sad to watch and read the news of people suffering from COVID-19, and the economic and social effect on so many — losing jobs, mental health. It was such a tough year for so many people,” Osaka wrote in an email interview. “And then watching the police injustices like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake (to name just a few) in the summer broke my heart. I am proud of my U.S. Open victory, but more so that I got people talking about the real issues.”

Osaka collected 18 of 35 first-place votes and a total of 71 points.

WNBA Finals MVP Breanna Stewart was next with nine first-place votes and 60 points, followed by Sarah Fuller, the Vanderbilt soccer player who kicked for the school’s football team, with one first-place vote and 24 points.

LeBron James was announced Saturday as the AP Male Athlete of the Year.

Billie Jean King, a 12-time Grand Slam singles title winner and a pioneering advocate for decades, praised Osaka for positioning “herself as a leader not only in women’s tennis but in all of sports and a force for change in our society.”