A controversial cartoon depicting tennis player Serena Williams “spitting the dummy” following her US Open loss last September has been backed by the Australian Press Council.
“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 council said on Monday.
The cartoon, which sparked worldwide controversy for its alleged bias, racism and stereotyping, depicted the tennis star jumping in the air, with a broken racquet and baby pacifier on the ground.
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In the cartoon, by Mark Knight in the Herald Sun, an umpire is shown saying, “Can you just let her win?” to a woman standing on the other side of the net.
It referred to an incident during the tennis grand slam final between Williams and Japan’s Naomi Osaka on September 9.
Williams, who was seeking a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title, was given a warning for a coaching violation before incurring a point penalty for smashing her racket.
After accusing the umpire of being “a thief for stealing a point from me”, she was docked a game.
In a statement, the Australian Press Council acknowledged some readers found the cartoon offensive but accepted there was a sufficient public interest in commenting on Williams’ behaviour and sportsmanship during the pivotal match.
Complaints raised concerns the tennis star was depicted in a sexist and racially offensive manner, with “prejudicial racial stereotype of African-American people generally, rather than an actual caricature of Ms Williams’ physical features.”
“Specifically, 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 apelike pose,” the council said.
In response, the Herald Sun said the cartoon was only intended to be a “sporting cartoon” to capture the on-court drama using “satire, caricature, exaggeration, and humour.”