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The Guy Who Drew That Serena Williams Cartoon Complained That You Can't "Punch Down" Anymore

"There’s nothing inaccurate in the cartoon, but I’m sorry it has been taken by social media and distorted so much."

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Serena Williams argues with umpire Carlos Ramos.
Julian Finney / Getty Images

Serena Williams argues with umpire Carlos Ramos.

Australian cartoonist Mark Knight has defended his widely condemned cartoon of US tennis star Serena Williams, claiming that it was a true reflection of the events of the US Open women's final.

The cartoon appeared in Monday’s edition of Australian tabloid The Herald Sun, and drew outrage on social media for depicting the 23-time Grand Slam winner with enlarged lips, a larger figure, a broken racket and a pacifier on the ground.

My toon in today’s @theheraldsun on #SerenaWilliams @usopen

At the US Open final, the 36-year-old broke a racket and clashed with umpire Carlos Ramos, who accused her of receiving instruction from her coach in the stand, in violation of the rules.

Williams was fined $4,000 for the coach instructions, $3,000 for smashing her racket, and $10,000 for "verbal abuse" at Ramos.

Knight's cartoon was slammed on social media on Monday night and Tuesday morning, including by Harry Potter author JK Rowling.

Well done on reducing one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes and turning a second great sportswoman into a faceless prop. https://t.co/YOxVMuTXEC

But Knight is refusing to apologise, telling 3AW radio's Neil Mitchell on Tuesday that Williams was spitting the dummy "like a child" in the match, and he was just drawing Williams as a "powerful woman".

"It's a cartoon about poor behaviour ... People said I’m racist because I drew Serena as an African-American woman. I drew her as a powerful figure, which is what she is. She's strongly built."

Knight complained he couldn't "punch down" in his cartoons.

"It's called punching down. You can't punch down these days. What that means is you can't criticise minority groups for poor behaviour," he said.

He also rejected claims that the depiction of Williams' rival, 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, with blonde hair was racist against the Japanese-born Grand Slam winner, because Osaka had dyed her hair blonde.

"There’s nothing inaccurate in the cartoon, but I’m sorry it has been taken by social media and distorted so much," he said.

Knight said he had been "trolled" by Rowling, and he had turned off his phone to stop all the notifications he had received. His tweet alone had more than 7,000 retweets and 21,000 replies at the time of publishing.

"This is how crazy it gets. It’s picked up by social media and it is like a rolling thunder," he said. "It turns into a tornado of false accusations and crazy things that aren’t even there."

Knight said his wife had also copped abuse on her personal Instagram page.

"I have tried to reply to these people but they just don’t listen. I could say something in my defence that it was just about poor behaviour," he said.

"I’ve drawn cartoons praising Serena. I’m not racist."

Knight pointed to a cartoon he drew of late singer Aretha Franklin, and said he was praised for it, and that one day he is a hero and the next a pariah.

I drew this cartoon to the sound of Aretha Franklin wafting around the office all day yesterday. My toon in today’s @theheraldsun #ArethaFranklin https://t.co/5TyRMmQVPJ

Last month, Knight drew similar criticism on social media after depicting South Sudanese teens rioting in a train station.

Racist cartoon from the people who brought us the racist/ criminal blair cottrell. Are young blacks boys the only ones who offend? Where is me the cartoon of “100 gangs of white youths” in Torquay that ended in 1 Officer injured, police forced to lock in cars calling for back-up? https://t.co/eYLarF1XEs


Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Josh Taylor at josh.taylor@buzzfeed.com.

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