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Tennis Star Naomi Osaka Joins Ownership Of NWSL’s NC Courage

 In this Sept. 12, 2020, file photo, Naomi Osaka, of Japan, returns a shot to Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, during the women's singles final at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York.
Seth Wenig

The North Carolina Courage have a new 23-year-old member of their ownership group.

International tennis star Naomi Osaka has invested in the Cary-based club, the two-time National Women’s Soccer League champions announced early Thursday morning.

Steve Malik remains the majority owner the team, a team spokesperson confirmed, though Osaka is the first investor in the Courage since he acquired the then-Western New York Flash and relocated the club to North Carolina in 2017.

For Osaka, named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, it’s another accomplishment in her young career in professional sports.

The daughter of a Haitian father and Japanese mother, Osaka was the first Asian player to hold the No. 1 ranking in singles and the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam. In 2020, she was named Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year, the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year and Forbes’ Highest Paid Female Athlete.

And now she’s taking her talents to the front office.

“The women who have invested in me growing up made me who I am today and I cannot think of where my life would be without them,” Osaka said in a statement. “My investment in the North Carolina Courage is far beyond just being a team owner, it’s an investment in amazing women who are role models and leaders in their fields and inspirations to all young female athletes. I also admire everything the Courage does for diversity and equality in the community, which I greatly look forward to supporting and driving forward.”

She has won three Grand Slam’s, winning the U.S. Open in 2018 and 2020, and the Australian Open in 2019. Osaka is in Australia now, preparing for the 2021 Australian Open, which begins Monday. She is also expected to represent Japan in the upcoming Olympic Games.

Osaka is the latest high-profile female athlete to invest in the NWSL. An expansion side based in Los Angeles that will begin play this season – Angel City FC – has an ownership group that includes tennis legend Serena Williams, WNBA star Candace Parker and former U.S. soccer women’s national team players Abby Wambach, Julie Foudy and Mia Hamm.

The Courage are part of the largest youth to professional soccer club in the U.S. with over 13,000 players, which will now align with “The Naomi Osaka Play Academy,” an initiative that aims to change girls’ lives through sports. With a passion for fashion, Osaka will also have a say in the Courage’s designs this season and going forward.

“Naomi embodies the values we have been striving to cultivate at our club, and she brings an invaluable viewpoint on topics beyond sports,” Malik said in a statement. “I cannot think of anyone better to help us as we continue to make a difference in our community and inspire the next generation of women.”

This season will be the ninth for the NWSL, which was founded in 2012. It will begin its 2021 campaign on April 9 with the Challenge Cup, and then a 24-game regular season will begin on May 15. Training camp opens next week.

Since moving to North Carolina, the Courage have won six trophies in four years, claiming three NWSL Shields, two championships and a victory in the 2018 Women’s International Champions Cup.

This season, the Courage will be led by dynamic Brazilian midfielder Debinha, U.S. national team forward Lynn Williams, and New Zealand centerback and captain Abby Erceg.

Mitchell Northam is a Digital Producer for WUNC. His past work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, SB Nation, the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and is also a voter in the AP Top 25 poll for women's college basketball.
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