Former tennis pro Doug Adler lost his long-time gig as an ESPN broadcaster after a match featuring Venus Williams at the 2017 Australian Open. After Williams won an impressive point, Adler made an observation that resulted in a mixed reaction of outrage and indifference, depending on how his words were interpreted. Adler insists that what he said while describing Williams’ play was, “You’re gonna see Venus move in and put the guerrilla effect on, charging.” Many viewers thought he said “gorilla,” and felt it was a racially charged comment about a black athlete. ESPN made Adler apologize and then fired him.
Adler has been livid ever since, claiming that he did nothing wrong and used a perfectly valid tennis expression for Williams’ unorthodox tactics. The phrase “guerrilla tennis” had been used in a Nike ad campaign in 1995, featuring white Americans Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, and was the headline of a 2004 New York Times article. On Friday, he appeared on NBC’s “Today Show” to talk about the incident, and his ongoing lawsuit against ESPN in Los Angeles Superior Court.
“It just makes me absolutely sick,” Adler said about the allegations of racism. “It’s not true. It couldn’t be further from the truth, and I don’t quite understand nor accept how something like that can happen to me.”
The now-former broadcaster says that he didn’t notice any reaction to what he said the day after. Even Williams herself didn’t seem upset by it. When asked about it at a press conference days later, Williams said, “I pay attention and address situations that are noteworthy,” clearly not deeming the issue worthy of a response. Adler interpreted this as Williams acknowledging that this was a non-issue. That didn’t keep ESPN from firing him.
“The irony is that Adler called everything correctly and in a professional manner, whereas ESPN did not – they recklessly made the wrong call,” Adler’s attorney, David Ring, said in a statement in February. “It was not only political correctness gone overboard, but also a cowardly move that ruined a good man’s career.”
Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, who is black and a big tennis fan, has come to Adler’s defense about claims that Adler’s remark was racist. Dinkins told NBC’s Matt Lauer, “It should not have been taken that way by anybody.”
Adler said his lawsuit against the company was necessary because of the damage their decision did to his career. “They killed me, they made me unemployable,” he said. “They ended my career, they killed my reputation, my good name, what else was I supposed to do?”
ESPN defends their decision.”Adler made an inappropriate reference to Venus Williams for which he felt no apology was necessary,” they said in a statement to LawNewz.com. “We disagree and stand 100% behind our decision to remove him from the 2017 Australian Open.”
ESPN more recently came under fire for a a personnel decision made out of fear of backlash. Asian Broadcaster Robert Lee was removed from an assignment calling a college football game in Virginia because his name is similar to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. That move drew widespread ridicule.