Cartoon of Serena Williams is ‘not racist’ claims watchdog

Melbourne-based newspaper Herald Sun's controversial cartoon of Serena Williams. Picture: AP
Melbourne-based newspaper Herald Sun's controversial cartoon of Serena Williams. Picture: AP
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A cartoon of Serena Williams published in the aftermath of her US Open final defeat to Naomi Osaka was not racist, a watchdog has found.

Williams was involved in a furious row with umpire Carlos Ramos in the US Open final last September - calling him a thief for taking a point away from her.

The 23-time grand slam champion lost her cool after being given a warning for coaching from the stands early in the second set against Osaka.

She was penalised a point for a second offence, smashing her racket, and then a game after she verbally abused umpire Carlos Ramos, calling him a liar and a thief. That put Williams 5-3 down in the second set and she went on to lose 6-2 6-4.

In the aftermath, Australia’s Herald Sun newspaper published a cartoon of Williams, with some believing the tennis star was depicted in an “ape-like pose”.

The Australian Press Council said: “Concern was expressed that the cartoon depicted Ms Williams with large lips, a broad flat nose, a wild afro-styled ponytail hairstyle different to that worn by Ms Williams during the match and positioned in an ape-like pose.”

In an adjudication released on Monday, the watchdog said it acknowledged that some readers found the cartoon offensive, but said there was “a sufficient public interest” in commenting on sportsmanship during a “significant dispute” between a high-profile tennis player and an umpire at the US Open final.

It added: “The council considers that the cartoon uses exaggeration and absurdity to make its point but accepts the publisher’s claim that it does not depict Ms Williams as an ape, rather showing her as ‘spitting the dummy’, a non-racist caricature familiar to most Australian readers.”

At the time, cartoonist Mark Knight defended the drawing and insisted he was simply illustrating Ms Williams’ behaviour on the day, telling the paper: “The cartoon was just about Serena on the day having a tantrum.”