Alexis Ohanian, 35, tweeted about the cartoon on Thursday, questioning why Damon Johnston — the editor of Australia’s Herald Sun — was being praised by Male Champions of Change, an Australian organization with the goal of empowering “powerful men to step up beside women to create a more gender equal world.”
“I am truly perplexed to learn this editor of the Australian newspaper behind the blatantly racist & misogynistic cartoon of my wife is a ‘Male Champion of Change’ 🤔,” Ohanian wrote on Twitter, linking to Johnston’s listing on the organization’s website.
The Herald Sun of Melbourne, Australia came under fire for their cartoon, which was published Monday.
The illustration, drawn by cartoonist Mark Knight, depicted the 36-year-old tennis star at Saturday’s U.S. Open women’s singles final as an exaggerated caricature of Williams stomping on her tennis racket with a pacifier near her feet.
It was meant to depict the moment Williams got into a verbal altercation with chair umpire Carlos Ramos, whom she called a “thief” before losing to Japan’s 20-year-old Naomi Osaka. But because of how Williams was drawn, critics and activists made comparisons to the stereotypes seen in anti-black political cartoons from the Jim Crow-era of America.
Initially, Knight asserted his drawing wasn’t about gender or race and, to back himself up, tweeted his cartoon of male Australian player Nick Kyrgios, which he’s since deleted. It showed a male official bending over to speak to a defiant Kyrgios, who is then dragged by the ear by a female official in the next frame. Knight titled the panel, “What should have happened.”
On Tuesday, Knight further continued his defense in an article published on the Herald Sun‘s website, saying, “I drew this cartoon Sunday night after seeing the U.S. Open final, and seeing the world’s best tennis player have a tantrum and thought that was interesting. … The cartoon about Serena is about her poor behavior on the day, not about race. The world has just gone crazy.”
Johnston also defended the cartoon, saying, “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. This was about a bad sport being mocked.”
Williams has yet to address the cartoon itself, but many on social media were quick to raise serious and critical questions about Knight’s cartoon.
In the background of Knight’s cartoon, an umpire is seen asking Williams’ opponent to let the athlete win. It isn’t clear whether the drawing of the white and blonde player is meant to represent Osaka, who is the daughter of a Haitian father and a Japanese mother.
“Well done on reducing one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes,” Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling tweeted, “and turning a second great sportswoman into a faceless prop.”
ESPN commentator Jemele Hill called the drawing “about as subtle as Fran Drescher’s voice.”
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Following her controversial loss, Williams was fined $17,000 from her $1.85 million prize money for three violations: $10,000 for verbally abusing the umpire, $4,000 for receiving a warning about coaching; and $3,000 for breaking a racket.
“Women are treated differently in most arenas of life,” wrote King in the Washington Post on Sunday. “This is especially true for women of color. And what played out on the court yesterday happens far too often. It happens in sports, in the office and in public service. Ultimately, a woman was penalized for standing up for herself. A woman faced down sexism, and the match went on.”
And after his win on Sunday, Djokovic told reporters, “I have my personal opinion that maybe the chair umpire should not have pushed Serena to the limit, especially in a Grand Slam final… He did change the course of the match. It was, in my opinion, maybe unnecessary. We all go through our emotions, especially when you’re fighting for a Grand Slam trophy.”