Australia paper defends Serena Williams cartoon despite outrage

Serena Williams sits at her bench after yelling at the chair umpire during the women's final against Naomi Osaka (not pictured).
Serena Williams sits at her bench after yelling at the chair umpire during the women's final against Naomi Osaka (not pictured).PHOTO: REUTERS

MELBOURNE (REUTERS) - An Australian newspaper defended its cartoonist on Tuesday (Sept 11) after publishing a caricature of Serena Williams having a temper tantrum at the US Open tennis tournament, which civil rights leaders, celebrities and fans condemned as racist.

Cartoonist Mark Knight's image, published in Melbourne's Herald Sun, showed an angry Williams with exaggerated lips and tongue and a wild plume of curly hair rising from the top of her head as she stomped on her tennis racket.

"This despicable cartoon tried and failed to diminish the greatness & grace of @serenawilliams. Racism in any form is unacceptable," civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson tweeted on Monday.

The cartoon was intended as a lampoon of the tennis star's angry exchanges with chair umpire Carlos Ramos at the US Women's Singles final in New York last Saturday.

Williams clashed with Ramos over penalties she thought she did not deserve, and ultimately lost to Naomi Osaka, a 20-year-old player born in Japan.

Knight's portrayal of Osaka as blond and light-skinned also drew criticism for being racist.

The Herald Sun reported on Tuesday that Knight had been mentioned on Twitter nearly 74,000 times following the cartoon's publication.

"This isn't satire - it is disgusting racist caricature," Twitter user Rose Weber wrote on Tuesday.

The Herald Sun, owned by a News Corp subsidiary, published a defence of its cartoonist on the home page of its website, quoting Knight as saying: "The cartoon about Serena is about her poor behaviour on the day, not about race."

It also reprinted the cartoon on its front page on Wednesday - along with caricatures of other personalities, including United States President Donald Trump - under the headline, "WELCOME TO PC WORLD".

"If the self-appointed censors of Mark Knight get their way on his Serena Williams cartoon, our new politically correct life will be very dull indeed," the paper wrote.

The newspaper also said Knight has suspended his Twitter account because of abuse towards his family over his cartoon. Knight said he did it to protect his family and friends.

Williams was fined US$17,000 (S$23,400) for three code violations during the controversial match, including breaking a racket and verbally abusing the umpire. She did not stomp on her racket during the match as the cartoon portrayed.


The National Association of Black Journalists said the cartoon was "repugnant on many levels".

"The Sept 10 cartoon not only exudes racist, sexist caricatures of both women, but Williams' depiction is unnecessarily sambo-like", the association said in a statement.

"Sambo," a derogatory term for a black person, is the name of a folkloric figure usually depicted with an exaggerated mouth and an ape-like stance.

Some Twitter users, however, contested that the image was not racist.

Lynne Adams tweeted on Tuesday, "Serena Williams is a large black woman who had a complete meltdown, what is racist about this cartoon."

After the match, Twitter users and tennis commentators alike said the penalties assessed to Williams were excessively harsh, and some said they may have reflected sexism and racism in tennis officiating.

Williams said that male players were held to a lower standard for court conduct.

"I'm here fighting for women's rights and women's equality," Williams said at a news conference after the match.