New Wrinkle in Serena Controversy: a Cartoon

Critics see its depiction of the tennis great as racist
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 10, 2018 12:41 PM CDT
New Wrinkle in Serena Controversy: a Cartoon
Naomi Osaka wipes a tear as she talks with Serena Williams after Osaka defeated Williams Saturday.   (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

Serena Williams' loss to Naomi Osaka over the weekend at the US Open continues to generate headlines beyond the world of sports. One of the buzzier stories Monday concerned a cartoon—see it here—that it appeared in the Herald Sun of Australia, reports Business Insider. It depicts Williams, with exaggerated features, throwing a tantrum. In the view of TMZ, "it looks like a Jim Crow-era, Sambo-style caricature of a black person—not Serena Williams," and plenty of people agreed, including 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," she wrote. Others found it strange that the cartoonist made Osaka and the ump white, when neither are. Related coverage:

  • Catching up: If you missed it, Williams accused ump Carlos Ramos of being a "liar" and a "thief" for docking her a point after what he deemed to be illegal communication between Williams and her coach. As she criticized him and demanded an apology, he penalized her a full game. Williams was ultimately fined $17,000.
  • Lost in all this: The controversy has overshadowed the win by Osaka and the 20-year-old's remarkable journey. Her mother is Japanese and her father Haitian, notes the Washington Post, which makes her Japan's first Grand Slam champ. The New York Times recently profiled her, wondering whether she can "burst Japan's expectations of what it means to be Japanese."

  • Hero in Japan: The AP reports that Osaka, who was born in Japan but raised in the US, has become a national sensation in the land of her birth. "Her halting Japanese, her manners—she bowed and apologized after beating Serena Williams in the US Open final—and her simple charm have swelled national pride in Japan and eclipsed many questions about her mixed-race parentage in a famously insular country."
  • The Williams arguments: Williams' punishment smacks of "institutional racism and sexism," writes Anne Branigin at the Root. (Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post agrees.) Essentially, if she weren't a black woman, she would not have been so harshly penalized. But at the Weekly Standard, Jonathan Last writes that Williams got exactly the punishment she deserved because she was "bullying," and he says she has a history of it. Another critic on the right, Roger Kimball at the Spectator, says all the "whining" makes Williams "tennis's Hillary Clinton."
  • A little of both: At the Guardian, Kevin Mitchell thinks Williams is correct in saying that tennis has a problem in its treatment of women, but he also thinks she was off base on Saturday. "Williams, while understandably upset, was wrong," he writes. "Ramos, doing no more than his job demanded, was right. Intentionally or not, she accused him of bias that simply was not there—in these circumstances, at least."
  • Was it cheating? Coach Patrick Mouratoglou told ESPN he was indeed trying to coach from the stands with hand gestures, which is illegal. However, he doesn't think Williams saw him, reports Sporting News. Besides, he added that every coach (including Osaka's) does the same in every match, and the sport should end the "hypocritical" rule. Dig into the pros and cons of the "coaching debate" at Tennis View Magazine.
  • Big name: Tennis legend Billie Jean King has weighed in on Williams' side, calling the ump's actions an "abuse of power." What should have been "a memorable moment for tennis, with Serena Williams, perhaps the greatest player of all time, facing off against Naomi Osaka, the future of our sport, turned into another example of people in positions of power abusing that power,” writes King in the Washington Post. The controversy illustrated in particular the difficulties "women of color face on their path to leadership."
(More Serena Williams stories.)

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