After the whole Robert Lee controversy, you'd think ESPN had learned its lesson, but apparently not.
Former tennis professional and ESPN broadcaster Doug Adler has filed a lawsuit against the company because he was fired due to confusion regarding his use of the word “guerrilla” while describing aggressive play by an African-American tennis champion.
During an interview conducted by Matt Lauer, during NBC’s Today show on August 25, Adler was asked what it’s like “to Google your own name and see the word ‘racism’ used in the same sentence as Doug Adler?”
“Yeah, it just makes me absolutely sick,” the former tennis pro replied before asserting that he has “never been a racist. I’ve never looked at color, have never even thought of that term until this whole situation.”
“That ‘situation’ began earlier this year during the Australian Open,” Lauer noted. Adler, calling a match involving Venus Williams, stated:
Venus was just too good, just too good. So in the second set, it became apparent to me what Venus was doing, … employing an especially aggressive style of play.
That led me to make this fateful comment: “You’ll see Venus move in and put the guerrilla effect on, charging.”
“To some viewers, it was clear,” Lauer indicated “They’d just heard an ESPN commentator comparing one of the world’s top tennis players, an African-American, to a gorilla.”
Apparently, many people are unaware of homonyms, words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different definitions.
The Today host asked Adler to spell the word he’d used in that sentence.
Adler replied: “G-U-E-R-R-I-L-L-A” as in “guerrilla warfare,” not “gorilla.”
The term had “nothing to do with an animal, everything to do with tactics, strategy, how to win the point,” he added.
“Anger quickly mounted on social media, but Adler says he didn’t hear about the controversy until the next day, when his boss told him he’d been branded a racist,” the NBC anchor continued.
Adler responded by stating: “You’ve got to be kidding me," and the boss said: “It’s unbelievable,” and “We all know what you meant.”
Lauer then asked if “the guerrilla effect” is "a common phrase in tennis." Adler responded: “It’s been used for decades.”
The interviewer stated that perhaps the most famous use of the term was in an iconic Nike ad from 1995 starring tennis professionals Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.” The ad’s name? “Guerrilla Tennis.”
“Those are two white tennis players,” Lauer noted. “Did it ever occur to you that that term would not be appropriate when referring to or describing an African-American or black tennis player?”
“No, no, never,” Adler replied.
When asked about the comment several days later, Williams dismissed it as unimportant.
“But amid the uproar, ESPN asked Adler to apologize on air,” Lauer stated. “The network itself issued a statement, saying: ‘Doug Adler should have been more careful in his word selection. He apologized, and we have removed him from his remaining assignments.’”
Adler said he was fired the very next day.
As a result, he is suing the company, claiming wrongful termination.
Adler also noted:
It would not have have happened to John McEnroe, it would not have happened to Martina Navratola.
They would have put the time, the energy and the resources into defending those people because they did nothing wrong.
The broadcaster then became consumed with social media, spending hours responding to every single one of his critics.
“Twenty hours a day, no food, no sleep, obsessed and passionate to get my name back and my reputation,” he noted. “I believed I had to do that.”
“What toll did that take on you,” Lauer asked, “that process?”
“I had a heart attack,” Adler replied simply.
“Now,” the interviewer noted, “Adler has found a powerful ally in David Dinkins, an avid tennis fan and former New York City mayor.”
Lauer was then shown asking Dinkins: “Does it make a difference when the term is applied or something similar when [it’s about] an African-American player?”
“It doesn’t,” Dinkins responded, “and it should not have been taken that way by anyone.”
“Why did you file the lawsuit?” the host asked Adler.
“They killed me, they made me unemployable,” Adler replied. “They ended my career. They killed my reputation, my good name. What else was I supposed to do?”
Lauer concluded the segment by quoting a statement released on Friday by ESPN:
Adler made an inappropriate reference to Venus Williams for which he felt no apology was necessary.
We disagree and stand 100 percent behind our decision to remove him from the 2017 Australian Open.
If anyone asks whether political correctness has gone berserk, Adler’s situation should provide the answer -- as long as he doesn’t use another homonym when responding.