Herald Sun published on September 1 a cartoon of US tennis player Serena Williams in the final of the US Open women's singles final. — Mark Knight/Herald Sun/AFP pic

As J.K. Rowling eloquently put, it’s a shame to see Serena Williams, one of the greatest sportswomen of today reduced to such mockery. She should not be made into a whitewashed accessory for stories.

As J.K. Rowling eloquently put, it’s a shame to see Serena Williams, one of the greatest sportswomen of today reduced to such mockery. She should not be made into a whitewashed accessory for stories.

During the 2018 Women’s US Open, Naomi Osaka defeated Serena Williams. But the match was far more eventful than the result.

When the match umpire gave Serena a series of code violations that resulted in point and game penalties, Serena got into a verbal altercation with the umpire. Though the arguments included no profanity nor violent action, Serena ultimately lost the match and was fined $17,000 for her violations.

Arguments in high-stakes tennis matches happen pretty often, but rarely result in such high penalties. Roger Federer screamed “I don’t give a sh*t what he said. Don’t f**king tell me the rules,” towards the 2009 Men’s US Open Final’s umpire. Andy Murray, another highly-ranked male tennis player, kicked a ball at an umpire’s head in 2016. Neither was severely penalized.

At the end of the day, both women were in tears. Though Serena had told Naomi Osaka, the first Japanese woman to win the US Open, that she had won fair and square, Naomi was booed once she stepped onto the Winner’s podium. Serena, in interviews after the match, has consistently expressed that the umpire’s actions reflected sexist expectations within the sport.  

She wasn’t wrong. At the French Open earlier this year, Serena wore a sleek black catsuit custom designed by Nike, which had technology built in to prevent the blood clots that had left her hospitalized before. Coming back right after birth, the catsuit was ultimately designed for her health. After the French Open; however, French Tennis Federation President banned such ‘form-fitting’ clothing from tournaments, saying that they disrespected the sport of tennis.

The sheer concept that wearing a health-conscious athletic uniform could disrespect a sport is sexist, there’s no way around it.

Serena Williams’ body has been overwhelmingly policed by the press: her body is always criticized as too muscular, manly, athletic– women in sports are constantly criticized for their athleticism, and it’s crucial that Serena is taking a stand.

The Herald Sun cartoonist Mark Knight felt the need to cartoonize this historic match, too, in a cartoon that’s generating viral controversy. The cartoon depicts Serena, in a clearly caricatured manner, stomping on her broken racket. The image of Serena seems racially extreme—Knight exaggerated her arms and legs to give her a more masculine figure, exaggerating her nose and lips in the way many typically cartoonized African Americans in the 80s. Further, the umpire is depicted in the cartoon asking Naomi Osaka, who is depicted as a light-skinned blonde despite being Haitian-Japanese, “Can you just let her win?”

The newspaper has defended their cartoonist, despite the overwhelming backlash. They see the controversy surrounding the cartoon, and the match overall, as leftist whining and sensitivity to non-PC actions. The cartoon is, bluntly, horrible– caricaturizing Serena as animalistic, exaggerating her features like 80’s Jim Crow era cartoons– and the newspaper’s defense proves how much further we still need to come.

But as author J.K. Rowling eloquently put, it’s a shame to see one of the greatest sportswomen of today reduced to such mockery, and another made into a whitewashed accessory to stories.

Grace Jin

Grace Jin is a student at Yale University. She’s a multi-time national champion in debate and is passionate about intersectional politics from the perspective of Generation Z.