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Australian paper defends ‘racist’ Serena Williams cartoon with front-page stand

Press Association logo Press Association 12/09/2018 By Ryan Wilkinson, Press Association Sport
Serena Williams lost to Naomi Osaka in the US Open final (Greg Allen/AP) © Provided by The Press Association Serena Williams lost to Naomi Osaka in the US Open final (Greg Allen/AP)

One of Australia’s largest newspapers has backed its cartoonist amid a global controversy over an illustration of Serena Williams by publishing his work on its front page.

JK Rowling and Nicki Minaj were among a “tidal wave” of critics to denounce the image by Herald Sun cartoonist Mark Knight as “racist and sexist” after it appeared in its paper on Monday.

Williams, a 23-time grand slam winner, was beaten by Naomi Osaka in the US Open final after having a heated row with umpire Carlos Ramos.

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The controversial illustration showed the runner-up jumping on a racquet lying next to a baby’s dummy.

For its Wednesday edition, the Herald Sun filled its front page with cartoons, including the contentious Williams image, along with likenesses of US president Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Australian prime minister Scott Morrison.

This Mark Knight's cartoon published by the Herald Sun depicts Serena Williams as an irate, hulking, big-mouthed black woman jumping up and down on a broken racket. The umpire was shown telling a blond, slender woman — meant to be Naomi Osaka, who is actually Japanese and Haitian — "Can you just let her win?" (Mark Knight/Heral Sun-News Corp. via AP) © AP This Mark Knight's cartoon published by the Herald Sun depicts Serena Williams as an irate, hulking, big-mouthed black woman jumping up and down on a broken racket. The umpire was shown telling a blond, slender woman — meant to be Naomi Osaka, who is actually Japanese and Haitian — "Can you just let her win?" (Mark Knight/Heral Sun-News Corp. via AP)

Under the headline “welcome to PC world”, the paper said: “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.”

It came after the paper’s editor, Damon Johnston, said the cartoon “rightly mocks poor behaviour by a tennis legend” and Mr Knight has the “has the full support of everyone” at the paper.

Watch: Serena Williams & Tennis: A complicated, concerning history (USA TODAY SPORTS)


Rowling led widespread criticism of its Monday cartoon, saying it had reduced “one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes”.

She also criticised the depiction of Osaka as a “faceless prop” in the background of the image.

The cartoon was also criticised by the veteran civil rights campaigner Reverend Jesse Jackson, who said it was “despicable”, and Melbourne-born basketball star Ben Simmons.

The 2018 NBA rookie of the year tweeted: “To disrespect Serena Williams, a 23 time Grand Slam Champion, in this light is truly disappointing. As an Australian, I am truly disappointed #morethananathlete”

Mr Knight said the barrage of online criticism led him to take down his social media profiles after abuse was also directed at his family by some users.

He said the reaction showed the world “has just gone crazy” and insisted he was simply illustrating her behaviour on the day.

Sep 8, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Serena Williams of the United States yells at chair umpire Carlos Ramos in the women's final against Naomi Osaka of Japan on day thirteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY SPORTS      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY © Reuters Sep 8, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Serena Williams of the United States yells at chair umpire Carlos Ramos in the women's final against Naomi Osaka of Japan on day thirteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY SPORTS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

He told the paper: “The cartoon was just about Serena on the day having a tantrum.

“A few days beforehand I had actually drawn a cartoon of Australian Nick Kyrgios and his bad behaviour at the US Open, so I’m not targeting. (Serena). Serena is a champion.

“I drew her as an African-American woman, she’s powerfully built, she wears these outrageous costumes when she plays tennis – she’s interesting to draw.

“I drew her as she is. As an African-American woman, so this whole business that I am some sort of racist, calling on racial cartoons from the past, it’s just made up. It’s not there.”

2018 US Open Tennis Tournament- Day Thirteen.  Serena Williams of the United States awaits the presentations after her controversial loss to Naomi Osaka of Japan in the Women's Singles Final on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the 2018 US Open Tennis Tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8th, 2018 in Flushing, Queens, New York City.  (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images) © Getty 2018 US Open Tennis Tournament- Day Thirteen. Serena Williams of the United States awaits the presentations after her controversial loss to Naomi Osaka of Japan in the Women's Singles Final on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the 2018 US Open Tennis Tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8th, 2018 in Flushing, Queens, New York City. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

In an editorial on Tuesday, the Herald Sun said a “tidal wave of ill-informed critics” should “take a breath and consider the facts”.

Williams was “simply outplayed and lost her temper in a gigantic and ill-disciplined blow-up,” the column said.

“The world has officially gone mad when a celebrated cartoonist is condemned by the social media hordes for depicting a famous sports star throwing an unedifying tantrum.”

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