An Australian cartoonist came under fire yesterday as his controversial depiction of Serena Williams at the US Open made headlines.
The cartoon was labelled by some as ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’, undermining Serena and blowing her behaviour at the game out of proportion.
The tennis star had clashed with match umpire Carlos Ramos, she had called him a ‘liar’ and a ‘thief’ for taking a point off her, Williams also smashed a racket on the ground in frustration.
Serena was fined $17,000 for three code violations – $10,000 for ‘verbal abuse’ against Ramos, $4,000 for being warned for coaching, and a further $3,000 for breaking her racket.
Mark Knight, an editorial cartoonist for the Herald Sun, published a cartoon of Serena Williams jumping on her racket during the match, with the umpire leaning over to Naomi Osaka (who, it shouldn’t be forgotten, won the match 6-2, 6-4, and became Japan’s first Grand Slam champion in doing so), saying ‘Can you just let her win?’
"You owe me an apology!"
Serena was fired up with the official in the final set of the US Open final. pic.twitter.com/r6RSbrirnV
— ESPN (@espn) September 8, 2018
The image, which Knight proudly shared on his Twitter, came under serious scrutiny from many, many people, including celebrities and sports writers alike.
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling slated the drawing writing, ‘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.’ ESPN’s Jemele Hill added that it was ‘About as subtle as Fran Drescher’s voice.’
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. https://t.co/YOxVMuTXEC
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) September 10, 2018
Now, Mark Knight has defended his drawing, saying the world has ‘gone crazy’ and that the drawing had nothing to do with race or gender.
Speaking to 3AW, Knight said:
The world’s gone crazy. It’s a cartoon about poor behaviour, it’s nothing to do with race.
I drew this cartoon on Monday night, I saw the world’s greatest tennis player spit the dummy.
She’s great to draw, she’s a powerful figure, she’s strongly built.
I’m sorry it’s been taken by social media and distorted so much. I’ve tried to reply to these people but they don’t listen.
Knight was also criticised for not depicting Osaka as a white person with blonde hair, despite her Haitian and Japanese heritage.
Only you didn't rely on all kinds of racist imagery (including making the opponent, who is of Japanese and Haitian descent) a white person.
I wouldn't hold your breath on that apology. And if you don't think it's about gender, maybe go read what Billie Jean King had to say. https://t.co/yOZkFj9Izu
— Julie DiCaro (@JulieDiCaro) September 10, 2018
The editor of the Herald Sun, Damon Johnston, has also defended Knight, saying:
A champion tennis player had a mega tantrum on the world stage, and Mark’s cartoon depicted that. It had nothing to do with gender or race.
Speaking after the huge reaction to his cartoon, 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.
— damon johnston (@damonheraldsun) September 11, 2018
He insisted the cartoon was just about poor behaviour, and compared it to a previous drawing he had done of tennis player Nick Kyrgios at the same tournament.
Three days before I had drawn a cartoon about Nick Kyrgios being led off by the ears, like you used to do with your children.
The cartoon about Serena is about her poor behaviour on the day, not about race.
Serena is no stranger to being in the media, unfortunately it just seems to be an inevitable part of being one of the world’s greatest sporting heroes.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.