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US Open (tennis)

Serena Williams cartoon: Mark Knight defends Herald Sun drawing of US Open tantrum after ‘racism’ accusations

Melbourne newspaper cartoonist says exaggerated drawing of Serena Williams throwing US Open final tantrum is ‘about poor behaviour, not race’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2018, 1:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2018, 10:34pm

Australian cartoonist Mark Knight is under fire for a drawing in the Herald Sun newspaper depicting Serena Williams’ US Open final outburst, with many decrying the image as racist.

Angry netizens have taken to social media to condemn the cartoonist, who drew Williams with an exaggerated face and body spitting out a dummy and stamping her feet, while chair umpire Carlos Ramos asks the American’s opponent, Naomi Osaka, “Can you just let her win?”

“A champion tennis player had a mega tantrum on the world stage, and Mark’s cartoon depicted that,” Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston said. “It had nothing to do with gender or race.’

Williams, 36, was docked a point and then a full game after picking up three code violations for receiving coaching, smashing her racquet and then verbally abusing Ramos in her defeat by 20-year-old Osaka on Saturday.

The 23-time grand slam winner accused the umpire of sexism in his punishment of her, and called him a “liar” and a “thief” on court.

The incident created a debate that has divided tennis, with American Williams suggesting some male players have not received the same treatment for similar outbursts.

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But Knight said: “I drew this cartoon Sunday night after seeing the US Open final, and seeing the world’s best tennis player have a tantrum and thought that was interesting.

“It’s been picked up by social media in the US and my phone has just melted down. The world has just gone crazy.”

Knight also pointed to another cartoon he had published three days earlier, depicting Australian male player Nick Kyrgios being led off the court by the ears like a child, after his own outburst at an umpire in Flushing Meadows.

“The cartoon about Serena is about her poor behaviour on the day, not about race,” Knight said.

“I tried to reply to these people but they just don’t listen. On any given day you are a hero and on any given day you are a pariah. And you just have to live with it.”

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Knight also faced criticism for his depiction of Osaka. The official Twitter handle for Ebony Magazine tweeted that Knight “drew Naomi Osaka in his racist and sexist caricature of the US Open champion, who is of Haitian and Japanese descent, as a blonde white woman”.

JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, tweeted: “Well done on reducing one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes and turning a second great sportswoman into a faceless prop.”

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday, Knight defended his depiction of Osaka, saying “people are making stuff up that it just not true”.

He added: “I depicted her [Osaka] as I saw her in photographs of the US Open.”

Knight’s cartoon was denounced by Washington DC-based National Association of Black Journalists on Monday, with the organisation calling it “repugnant on many levels”.

“The September 10 cartoon not only exudes racist, sexist caricatures of both women, but Williams’ depiction is unnecessarily sambo-like,” a statement said.

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“The art of editorial cartooning is a visual dialogue on the issues of the day, yet this cartoon grossly and inaccurately depicts two women of colour at the US Open, one of the grandest stages of professional sports.”

One Twitter user wrote: “The fact Mark Knight is doubling down on his racist cartoon just goes to show how much black women have to fight for our right to be human.”

Another tweeted: “The saddest part about Mark Knight’s cartoon depiction of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka is that he believes that he has done nothing wrong and that everyone is overreacting and does not understand the art of caricature. Racist bigotry at its finest.”

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Others came to Knight’s defence, blaming a culture of political correctness for people being offended.

“Criticism of Mark Knight’s Serena Williams cartoon shows the world has gone too PC & misunderstands the role of news media cartoons and satire,” tweeted Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp Australia. “Poor behaviour in any sport needs to be called out.”