She took home 18 of 35 first-place votes (71 total points), beating out WNBA Finals MVP Breanna Stewart (nine first-place votes, 60 points) and Vanderbilt soccer player and football kicker Sarah Fuller (one first-place vote, 24 points).
Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James was named the AP Male Athlete of the Year.
Osaka, 23, went 16-3 during a 2020 season that saw the tennis schedule shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. She also won the U.S. Open in September, her third Grand Slam title.
AP Sports @AP_Sports
Naomi Osaka is the AP Female Athlete of the Year for 2020. The tennis player’s year included a U.S. Open title and social justice advocacy. Osaka’s goals for 2021? “Work hard, do better, speak up, be kind.” Full story by @HowardFendrich: https://t.co/xaiEsnvVRr https://t.co/bfyuBeRbTB
But she made a mark off the court, as well, using her platform to advocate for social justice causes and to speak out against police brutality and discrimination, which included skipping a semifinal match during the Western & Southern Open in August in protest of the Jacob Blake shooting. The tournament ultimately paused all matches for a day.
She also wore face masks before matches that featured the names of Black victims of violence and police brutality.
In an email to the AP, Osaka spoke about using her voice in 2020:
"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. 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."
Tennis legend Billie Jean King called Osaka "a leader not only in women's tennis but in all of sports and a force for change in our society."
"She successfully completed the difficult task of taking excellence in sports performance and using that platform to succeed outside of sports on a much bigger stage," King added. "She ignited a conversation on social justice, the results of which were bigger than tennis, larger than sports, and in doing so raised the bar for all those who want to leverage the gifts and talents we have to make a difference in our world."
Osaka told the AP that she simply did what she believed to be right.
"To be honest, I really didn't stop to think about what others would think of my actions," she said. "Other people's opinions weren't going to stop me from doing what I know in my heart was the right thing to do. The strong voices of Colin [Kaepernick] and LeBron were certainly positive influences for me and gave me strength in my own convictions."