Former tennis pro Doug Adler began his broadcasting career at ESPN in 2008, and had plans to announce the championship match of the Australian Open. However, he was fired mid-tournament after what Adler claims is a case of mistaken semantics.
Adler was commentating on a Australian Open women’s match between American tennis icon Venus Williams and Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele, when he made a comment that ignited an explosion on social media.
Twitter picked up on Adler’s comment and quickly branded him a “racist” for his alleged comparison of Williams, an African American woman, to a “gorilla.”
According to Fox News, the accusation was perpetuated after the New York Times tweeted that it was “appalling.”
While the comparison to a gorilla is a historical attack on African Americans, Adler claimed he used the word “guerrilla,” not “gorilla.” He told TMZ:
“When I commentate on tennis, I’m only commentating on tactics and strategy. I really could care less who’s playing — man, woman, child — doesn’t matter. So, I’m always talking tactics required to win and those tactics are: “moving in for the kill,” “taking no prisoners,” “guerrilla effect.” You don’t want to say the same thing over and over, so you use descriptive adjectives to describe what a player needs to do to win.”
The term “guerrilla” has been used in tennis at least as far back as 1995, when it was used in a Nike campaign that featured Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, two white, male players.
Despite Adler’s claim that ESPN was fully aware of what he meant by the use of the term, the network caved to the heavy backlash and fired the commentator. During an exclusive interview with TMZ, he said:
“I think I was just thrown to the wolves because they didn’t want to take the time and energy to back me. Basically, I’m not a huge name in the business, I’m not like a John McEnroe. I think they felt I was expendable.”
Adler said the reason for his release was that, “there was too much opposition,” and “they’d rather not fight it.”
According to the Daily Mail, the commentator described the situation in a statement:
“It was shocking to be treated this way by folks who’ve known me forever … Anyone who has ever competed in sports knows exactly the meaning of the term I used. Period.”
When he noticed the damage that was being done to his reputation, Adler told the Los Angeles Daily News, “I knew I’d have to fight for my name.”
On Tuesday, Adler filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the network, according to Fox News. The lawsuit reportedly seeks financial damages over “lost future opportunities” because “no one will hire a racist.”
In a statement, Adler’s attorney David Ring said:
“The irony is that Adler called everything correctly and in a professional manner, whereas ESPN did not – they recklessly made the wrong call.”
Ring also said that ESPN’s decision to cave to social media pressure is not only “political correctness gone overboard,” but also a “cowardly move” that ruined a “good man’s career.”
ESPN spokesman Mike Soltys said the network has not seen the lawsuit. Venus Williams has not commented on the suit.