An Australian rules football club and three players have apologized “unreservedly” after they were criticized for a racist incident in which they dressed in blackface as Serena and Venus Williams for “Mad Monday,” a season-ending celebration.
Mitch Stanley and Matt Chamberlain dressed as the Williams sisters and Beau Grundy dressed as the Sydney Swans' Aliir Aliir, the first Sudanese player taken in the league’s draft. All three play for the Penguin Football Club in Tasmania, and images of the men drew immediate condemnation when they were posted on Facebook. The incident comes on the heel of a cartoon that was widely decried as racist, depicting Serena Williams during her U.S. Open incident less than two weeks ago.
“It was not their intention to upset anyone and all they meant to do was dress as one of their sporting idols,” the club said in a statement (via Australia’s ABC News). “Their actions were never intended to be racist in any way. Those concerned have been reprimanded and will be given support to make sure they understand that their behavior was racist and hurtful and that it will not happen again.
“The players concerned have acknowledged that what they did was completely and utterly unacceptable and would like to apologize unreservedly for their lack of judgment.”
Michael Mansell, a Tasmanian Aboriginal activist who played football for North Hobart and Launceston, called the behavior “offensive to most reasonable people” and told ABC that “the message is that [people] are free to make a mockery of people who are not white. There are more and more immigrants coming to Australia, to start a new life. They see this sort of behavior and wonder what they’ve migrated to.
“How many young Aboriginal players would want to go now to the Penguin Football Club or be part of the NWFL [North West Football League] if this is the sort of attitude that is allowed to happen?”
There have been a number of blackface incidents in Australia over the past few years, as ABC reports, with each receiving backlash of the sort Penguin experienced.
Australia’s Herald Sun newspaper doubled down last week after its cartoon of Serena Williams sparked an almost immediate controversy. Critics from all over the world suggested that the cartoon, drawn by Mark Knight, drew on racist tropes. The Melbourne-based newspaper, which is operated by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Australia, republished part of the image on its front page under the headline “WELCOME TO PC WORLD.”
“If the self-appointed censors of [cartoonist] Mark Knight get their way on his Serena Williams cartoon, our new politically correct life will be very dull indeed,” read the front page, which also featured caricatures of other famous figures such as President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
Said Knight: “I saw the world number one tennis player have a huge hissy fit and spit the dummy [an Australian expression for a childish tantrum]. I drew her as an African American woman. She’s powerfully built. She wears these outrageous costumes when she plays tennis. She’s interesting to draw. I drew her as she is, as an African American woman.”