Australian cartoonist Mark Knight was hit with massive backlash for depicting tennis superstar Serena Williams' US Open meltdown on Saturday in a cartoon for the Herald Sun.
Knight was immediately knocked as racist and sexist for drawing an angry Williams with exaggerated features stomping on her tennis racket with a pacifier nearby on the court. In the background, the chair umpire is shown asking 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, "Can you just let her win?"
But Knight is refusing to apologize and standing by his drawing, as are his colleagues at the Herald Sun. "It had nothing to do with gender or race," the seasoned cartoonist explained in a video for the paper.
"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," Knight said. "The cartoon about Serena is about her poor behaviour on the day, not about race. The world has just gone crazy."
Critics were offended by the depiction of Williams in particular, suggesting she was drawn as a "racist caricature." Others highlighted the "whitewashed" depiction of Osaka, who has Haitian and Japanese heritage; in the cartoon she has blonde hair and looks "white."
Fellow cartoonists and Herald Sun editors, however, have come to the defense of Knight, slamming the backlash as evidence that the world has become too "PC" (politically correct).
As noted by the Herald Sun, fellow cartoonist Michael Leunig said Knight's cartoon was not offensive, but truthful.
"I saw Knight’s cartoon and was not offended or angered. I saw nothing abusive or malicious. In fact there is truth at the heart of it," said Leunig. "It’s getting harder to be a cartoonist in this crazy anxious world — in this fragile angry humourless environment where leniency and understanding are in dangerous decline, and where psychic infections spread chaotically on social media with terrible consequences."
Cartoonist Paul Zanetti said he was stunned by the backlash Knight received. "All he has done as cartoonists do is tell the truth. All he did was depict her in satirical manner," said Zanetti. "It’s PC madness."
"[Knight's] cartoon is not racist or sexist .... it rightly mocks poor behavior by a tennis legend ... Mark has the full support of everyone," echoed Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston.
"World’s gone mad when cartoonist is targeted for saying tennis player spat the dummy-so sick of PC BS as too many confect an issue to be outraged about-that’s what this is about ... Mark Knight’s a man of the greatest character-proud he’s in our paper," said Herald Sun Sunday Editor Nick Papps.
If the Herald Sun's stance was in anyway unclear, here is the cover for Wednesday's paper: