An Australian cartoonist has come under withering criticism for portraying tennis superstar Serena Williams using – what Harry Potter author JK Rowling described as – “racist and sexist tropes”.
Mark Knight’s caricature, published in Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper on Monday, shows a butch and fat-lipped Williams jumping up and down on her broken racquet at the US Open.
Williams’ heated exchanges with an umpire at the tournament final this week have stirred the tennis world.
In the cartoon the umpire is seen saying to Osaka “can’t you just let her win?”
Knight, who has a reputation for controversial cartoons, was pilloried from far and wide, including by a member of the US Congress and a large portion of the 22,000 people who commented on his Twitter post showing the drawing.
The detractors included author JK Rowling, who said, “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.”
Knight responded to the criticism by pointing out that he had drawn an unflattering portrayal of Australian male tennis star Nick Kyrgios “behaving badly”.
“Don’t bring gender into it when it’s all about behaviour,” he said.
Many others called out the publication for supporting Knight.
In response to criticism from US media and on social media channels, Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston said, “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.”
Knight told Herald Sun that he was “amazed” at the reaction to his cartoon. “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,” he said.
“It’s been picked up by social media in the US and my phone has just melted down. The world has just gone crazy,” he added.
Other than the publication itself, few came forward to support Knight’s ‘art’, saying that he had been unfairly criticised on social media channels.
Williams was found guilty of code violations and fined US$17,000 – raising allegations that there are double standards for male and female players.
She was thwarted in her bid for a record-tying 24th Slam singles crown in losing to Japan’s Naomi Osaka.
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