When ESPN decided not to have an Asian broadcaster named Robert Lee call a game because of possible reaction to his name, it seemed hypersensitivity had run amok at the network. But in the wake of that decision, ex-ESPN sportscaster Doug Adler appeared on the Today show to suggest it’s not the first time ESPN has gone too far in this regard. From Today:
“It just makes me absolutely sick,” Adler told Lauer about being branded a racist. “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.”
During Williams’ match against Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele, Adler was describing Williams’ aggressive play when he said, “Venus is all over her. And you’ll see Venus move in and put the guerrilla effect on, charging.”
Many viewers interpreted it as Adler referring to Williams, an African-American, as a “gorilla,” not “guerrilla,” which he strongly denies.
When Adler first made the comment he had no idea it had been misheard by some viewers. The next day his producer told him what people were saying and added “We all know what you meant.” But 24-hours later Adler was fired. He became obsessed with social media and says he was spending 20 hours a day responding to people who accused him of being a racist. Five weeks later he had a heart attack. In his own defense, Adler points to some Nike commercials from the mid-90s which were known as “Guerilla Tennis.” Here’s one of them:
Adler filed a lawsuit against ESPN back in February. He tells Matt Lauer there was nothing else he could do after his dismissal by ESPN ruined his career and “essentially labeled me a racist.” The Today interview is surprisingly sympathetic. In his defense, Adler points to some Nike commercials from the mid-90s which were known as “Guerilla Tennis.” Here’s one of them:
So there’s no doubt that “guerilla tennis” was a thing at some point in time and that Adler would have heard about it. On the other hand, that’s not quite what Adler said during the broadcast. Martina Navratilova had this to say about Adler’s comment:
there is no such thing in tennis lingo as a guerilla effect, charging etc And as far as I know, gorillas charge, not guerrillas.
— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) February 14, 2017
Adler’s comment was vague enough that it was open to misinterpretation. In today’s climate, you don’t always get a chance to explain yourself, especially on issues involving race. For her part, Venus Williams refused to comment for the Today story and hasn’t really commented on what Adler said since it happened. Here’s the interview from the Today show: