Naomi Osaka Makes History As The First Black Woman Athlete To Grace The Cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition


July 21, 2021

She’s going to be making history for a long time!

Naomi Osaka is making history as the first Black woman athlete to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated (SI) Swimsuit Edition, USA Today reports.

Osaka has taken the sports world by storm, recently being named female athlete of the year by The Associated Press. Not only is she dominating in her lane, but the 23-year-old has been making major moves off the court as well. She’s becoming part-owner of a professional U.S. women’s soccer team, releasing a Barbie doll in her likeness that sold out in minutes, and providing access and opportunities to children in Los Angeles and Haiti through her tennis academy.


Now Osaka is making waves again, becoming the first Black woman athlete and the first Haitian and Japanese woman to grace the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. The tennis star recently took a step back from the sport, withdrawing from the French Open after deciding not to speak with the press in favor of protecting her mental health. She’s been very candid about her wellness journey and has advocated for the sport to make better accommodations for athletes. 



“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,” said SI Swimsuit editor-in-chief M.J. Day.

Osaka joins two other powerful women on the SI 2021 Swimsuit Cover, including rapper Megan Thee Stallion, the first female rapper to be on the cover, and activist Leyna Bloom, the first transgender model to make the cover. Day said that it was the uniqueness of each of the women that compelled Sports Illustrated to choose them for the cover. 

“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.


Osaka sat down on Zoom with Tyra Banks, who was the first Black woman to have a solo cover on Sports Illustrated in 1999, to discuss her historic cover.

“I wouldn’t have thought that I would have been the first one,” Osaka said. “I hope there are many, many more people to come, and I’m sure there will be.


The 2021 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is available for purchase now!

Congratulations, Naomi!


Photo Courtesy of Yu Tsai/Sports Illustrated

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