Newspaper reprints controversial cartoon of Serena Williams

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) A cartoon of Serena Williams that has been widely condemned as a racist depiction of the tennis great has been partially reprinted on the front page of the Melbourne-based newspaper that initially published it.

The Herald Sun newspaper printed an edited portion of the cartoon – featuring 23-time Grand Slam winner Williams jumping on a broken racket during her dispute with a chair umpire in the U.S. Open final – among caricatures of other famous people Wednesday under the headline “Welcome to the PC World.”

The newspaper, which has Australia’s largest circulation, has defended its cartoonist Mark Knight’s depiction of Williams and is asserting that the condemnation, which has come from all parts of the world, is driven by political correctness.

“If the self-appointed censors of Mark Knight get their way on his Serena Williams cartoon, our new politically correct life will be very dull indeed,” the paper said on its front page.

Williams has won the Australian Open singles title seven times at Melbourne Park, including in 2017 when she was pregnant. She is a crowd favorite at the first tennis major of the year, which is held each January at a venue that is within sight of the Herald Sun’s headquarters.

In comments published by News Corp., Knight said that he created the cartoon after watching Williams’ “tantrum” during her U.S. Open final loss to Naomi Osaka on Saturday and that it was designed to illustrate “her poor behavior on the day, not about race.”

Knight reportedly has disabled his Twitter account after his post of the cartoon attracted tens of thousands of comments, mostly critical.

During the final against Osaka, Williams got a warning from the chair umpire for violating a rarely enforced rule against receiving coaching from the sidelines. An indignant Williams emphatically defended herself, denying she had cheated. A short time later, she smashed her racket in frustration and was docked a point. She protested and demanded an apology from the umpire, who penalized her a game.

Critics of Knight’s cartoon described it as a clear example of a stereotype facing black women, depicting Williams as an irate, hulking, big-mouthed black woman jumping up and down on a broken racket. The umpire was shown telling a blond, slender woman – meant to be Osaka, who is Japanese and Haitian – “Can you just let her win?”

“I was deeply offended. This is not a joke,” said Vanessa K. De Luca, former editor-in-chief of Essence magazine, who wrote a column about the U.S. Open furor.

The cartoonist “completely missed the point of why she was upset,” De Luca told The Associated Press. “It was about her integrity, and anybody who doesn’t get that is perpetuating the erasure that so many black women feel when they are trying to speak up for themselves. It’s like our opinions don’t matter.”

In a social media post, Peter Blunden, managing director of News Corp.’s operations in the state of Victoria, said: “Australia’s finest cartoonist Mark Knight has the strongest support of his colleagues for his depiction of Serena Williams’ petulance. It’s about bad behavior, certainly not race. The PC brigade are way off the mark … again.”

This isn’t the first time a cartoon in a News Corp. newspaper has drawn allegations of racism. In 2009, civil rights leaders and others criticized a New York Post cartoon that some interpreted as comparing President Barack Obama to a violent chimpanzee.

In Britain, where fiercely competitive tabloids often trade in sensationalism, Rupert Murdoch-owned newspapers have been accused of sexism, racism and xenophobia over the years. Last year a former editor of the Murdoch-owned Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, quit as a contributor to the tabloid after writing a column comparing a soccer player with part-Nigerian heritage to a gorilla.

Many years of outrage over articles and cartoons did little to hurt Murdoch’s power over British politics and media, though his papers’ underhanded practices did. Murdoch was forced to shut down the 168-year-old tabloid News of the World in 2011 after the revelation that its employees had eavesdropped on the phone voice mails of celebrities, politicians and crime victims.

Australian indigenous playwright and actress Nakkiah Lui tweeted in response to the front page, saying the Herald Sun needed to “chill.”

“Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom above criticism,” she said.

“What we have is a bunch of people who get paid to publicly exercise their implied freedom to speech then whining when people disagree with what they have had the privilege of being paid to say,” she added.

Australian writer Maxine Beneba Clarke said she believed the front page demonstrated a “misunderstanding” of the criticism leveled at the cartoon.

“I think it’s really interesting that the Herald Sun has not included really any other caricatures or cartoons of black people – either Aboriginal people or African-American people, black people of any descent,” Clarke, who is of Afro-Caribbean descent, told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Cartoonist Paul Zanetti, a friend of Knight, said cartooning was under threat from political correctness, and the Herald Sun front page “spelt out exactly where we are at this point.”

“Political correctness is really all about censoring, it’s about being bullied into conforming to a view of the world,” he said.

Tennis star Kyrgios to fight charge on mental health grounds

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CANBERRA, Australia – Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios will apply to have an assault charge dismissed on mental health grounds, his lawyer told an Australian court on Tuesday.

Lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith appeared on behalf of Kyrgios in a court in the tennis star’s hometown of Canberra and asked for an adjournment so forensic mental health reports could be prepared.

Magistrate Glenn Theakston adjourned the case until Feb. 3, when Kyrgios’ lawyers are expected to apply to have the charge dismissed under a section of the local crimes law.

The 27-year-old Australian tennis star will appear in court in person on that date for the first time since he was charged by police by summons in July.

The law gives magistrates the power to dismiss a charge if they are satisfied an accused person is mentally impaired, and dealing with an allegation in that way would benefit the community and the defendant.

The common assault charge, which has a potential maximum sentence of two years in prison, relates to an incident in January 2021 that was reported to local police last December.

The charge reportedly relates to an incident involving his former girlfriend.

Kukulies-Smith told the court his client’s mental health history since 2015 made the application appropriate, citing a number of public statements made by Kyrgios.

In February, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense last month to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

Theakston questioned whether Kyrgios would need to appear in court for the February hearing, but Kukulies-Smith said his client wanted to attend.

Kyrgios was scheduled to play at the Japan Open later Tuesday against Tseng Chun-hsin of Taiwan.

Speaking in Tokyo before his matter returned to court, Kyrgios said it was “not difficult at all” to focus on tennis despite the pending charge.

“There’s only so much I can control and I’m taking all the steps and dealing with that off the court,” he told reporters. “I can only do what I can and I’m here in Tokyo and just trying to play some good tennis, continue that momentum and just try to do my job.”

Wimbledon champ Rybakova beats Keys in Ostrava opener

Agel Open Ostrava - Day One
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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakova came from a set down to defeat Madison Keys 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round of the Agel Open on Monday.

Rybakova had lost to Keys this year at the French Open and Cincinnati.

In other first-round matches in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava, Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia defeated Zhang Shuai of China 6-3, 6-3, and local hope Petra Kvitova overcame American Bernanda Pera 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

Fresh from her second title of the year in Seoul last month, Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia knocked out former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.