Sydney, Australia: A media watchdog has ruled that a cartoon of tennis star Serena Williams which attracted global condemnation after being published by Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper was not in breach of the Australian Press Council’s standards of practice.
The depiction of Williams by cartoonist Mark Knight last September showed her reacting angrily to her loss to Naomi Osaka in the final of the U.S. Open. Williams is depicted with her mouth open wide, hands in fists and jumping above a broken tennis racket and a baby’s pacifier. In the background an umpire says to a player on the opposite side of the net, “Can you just let her win?”
In a ruling published Monday, the Australian Press Council said it “acknowledged that some readers found the cartoon offensive” but said there was sufficient public interesting in commenting on the behavior of a player with a globally high profile.
“The council considered 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.”
The Herald Sun said the cartoon used “satire, caricature, exaggeration, and humor” to depict an event of public interest.
The press council said it accepted the newspaper’s contention the cartoon was in response to Williams’ behavior during the match.
The newspaper “said that the cartoon was not intended to depict negatively any race or gender and was drawn in a style that the cartoonist has drawn over several decades and was only intended to be a ‘sporting cartoon’ for the publication’s local readership,” the press council said in its findings.
During the final against Osaka, Williams got a warning from the chair umpire for receiving coaching from the sidelines. An indignant Williams emphatically defended herself, denying she had cheated. A short time later, she smashed her racket in frustration and was docked a point. She protested and demanded an apology from the umpire, who penalized her a game.
Williams has won the Australian Open seven times and is a crowd favorite at Melbourne Park, where she has been playing at the season’s first tennis major since 1998. She returned for the tournament last month but lost in the quarterfinals.