Former tennis pro and commentator Doug Adler found himself under fire last month after comments he made about tennis great Venus Williams at the Australian Open. He was fired by ESPN for those comments, and now he’s seeking legal redress after the sports TV network fired him for referring to her as a “gorilla.”
Adler maintains that he wasn’t calling Williams a primate, but instead referring to her aggressive tennis style as “guerilla,” a difference that doesn’t come out too well in the spoken word.
He apologized for his poor word choice but was let go from ESPN mid-tournament.
Adler claims “emotional distress” in the filing in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging he was wrongly branded a racist and has lost other TV opportunities because of the controversy.
The lawsuit calls for punitive financial damages, but doesn’t name an amount.
ESPN spokesman Mike Soltys said Tuesday the network hadn’t seen the lawsuit and had no comment.
The suit points out that “Guerrilla Tennis” was the name of a Nike TV ad from the 1990s featuring Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.
“Obviously, (Adler) saw that commercial many times and the phrase became widely used by those who actually understood tennis vernacular and followed the sport closely,” the lawsuit said.
Peter Bodo, senior editor of Tennis magazine, used the term in a 2012 profile of Agnieszka Radwanska, according to court papers.
However, the issue arises when one considers the fact that neither Agassi, Sampras, or Radwanska is African American, and Williams is.
When spoken aloud, “guerilla” and “gorilla” are indistinguishable. And while his remarks may well be exactly what he is saying they were meant to be, they were definitely an unwise choice in this day and age of heightened racial tensions.
Adler is suing ESPN because he claims the network knew what he meant, but forced him to apologize anyway, only to turn around and fire him.
Adler says ESPN understood what he meant but made him apologize anyway … only to fire him a short time later.
Adler says he’s screwed professionally because of the way his termination played out in the media — saying, “No one will hire a ‘racist.'”
For the record, Adler says he’s “anything but a racist.”
The lawsuit doesn’t specify monetary damages Adler’s seeking.