American teenager Coco Gauff says sports stars should use their platform to drive social change, calling for peace and an end to gun crime after reaching the French Open final.
The 18-year-old wrote the message on a television camera after she reached a first Grand Slam singles final.
“It felt right in the moment. Hopefully it gets into the heads of people in office to change things,” said Gauff.
Last week, 19 children and two teachers were killed by a gunman in Texas.
On Thursday, a gunman killed three employees and a patient at an Oklahoma hospital.
At the end of her on-court interview following her semi-final victory, Gauff walked to the camera to leave a message, as is traditional at the tournament, and wrote ‘Peace – end gun violence’ on the lens.
“I really didn’t know what I was going to write even [in the] moments walking to the camera. It just felt right in that moment to write that,” said world number 23 Gauff.
“I woke up this morning, you know, and I saw there was another shooting, and I think it’s just crazy.”
Gauff says she feel comfortable speaking out for social change and named a list of athletes – LeBron James, Serena Williams, Billie Jean King, Naomi Osaka and Colin Kaepernick – as her role models for using their platforms.
“I feel like a lot of times we’re put in a box that people always say, ‘sports and politics should stay separate’,” said Gauff.
“I say yes, but also at the same time I’m a human first before I’m a tennis player.
“Of course I’m going to care about these issues and speak out about these issues.
“If anything, sports gives you the platform to maybe make that message reach more people.”
Gauff is from Florida and says she remembers having friends at the scene of a shooting at a high school campus in Parkland, where 17 people died in 2018.
“I think that this is a problem in other parts of the world, but especially in America it’s a problem that’s, frankly, been happening over some years but obviously now it’s getting more attention,” said Gauff.
“For me, it’s important, just as a person in the world, regardless of being a tennis player or not.
“It was just especially important just being in Europe and being where I know people globally around the world are for sure watching.”
By beating Italy’s Martina Trevisan in the semi-finals on Thursday, Gauff became the youngest finalist at Roland Garros since Kim Clijsters in 2001.
She will play Poland’s world number one Iga Swiatek in Saturday’s final.
Swiatek, 21, is the hot favourite having won her past 34 matches and past five tournaments.
“I’m just going to play free and play my best tennis. I think in a Grand Slam final anything can happen,” said Gauff.
“She’s not going to give you much opportunities. Watching her play, I think she does a great job of changing direction and hitting angles off the court, and hitting winners – she’s always hitting winners.”