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Cartoonist defends controversial portrayal of Serena Williams

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 11/09/2018 Michael Singer

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The artist behind a controversial and widely criticized cartoon of Serena Williams defended his depiction of Williams’ meltdown at the US Open and said it had nothing to do with race.

Mark Knight, a cartoonist for "The Herald Sun" in Australia, said in an interview Monday evening that his portrayal of Williams stomping on her racket as the chair umpire asked Naomi Osaka to let Williams win was an accurate representation of their final match.  

Serena Williams speaks during a news conference following the women's final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) © ASSOCIATED PRESS Serena Williams speaks during a news conference following the women's final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) “There’s nothing inaccurate in the cartoon, but I’m sorry it’s being taken by social media and distorted so much,” he said.

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“The cartoon is about Serena, it was about her poor behavior. It had nothing to do with race.”

Author J.K. Rowling blasted the image as did numerous US media outlets.

“People said I’m a racist because I drew Serena as an African American woman,” Knight explained. “I drew her as this powerful figure, which she is, she’s strongly built. They say I’m racist because I drew Naomi Osaka in the background with blonde hair. Well, she does have her hair dyed blonde.”

J. K. Rowling attends the world premiere of "Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them" at Alice Tully Hall on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP) © Charles Sykes/Invision/AP J. K. Rowling attends the world premiere of "Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them" at Alice Tully Hall on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP) Knight said that his phone “melted down” as criticism of his portrait roiled social media all day. He also said his wife and children were subjected to threats on their Instagram pages as a result of the cartoon.

“This is how crazy it gets. It gets picked up by social media and it’s like a rolling thunder, a storm gathering intensity until it just turns into a tornado of false accusations and crazy things that aren’t even there.”

Serena Williams reacts during the trophy ceremony after losing to Naomi Osaka, of Japan, in the women's final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) © ASSOCIATED PRESS Serena Williams reacts during the trophy ceremony after losing to Naomi Osaka, of Japan, in the women's final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Knight defended his work and said there are previous examples of him portraying Williams in a more favorable light.

“I think these days, I don’t think you can, it’s called punching down,” he said. “You can’t punch down these days. And what that means is you can’t criticize minority groups for poor behavior. You just can’t go there. But I’m a cartoonist and I comment on all topics.”

Related slideshow: Best of the US Open (provided by USA Today)

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