The ESPN tennis announcer who was fired last month following backlash over him using racist language to describe Venus Williams’ playing style at the Australian Open has sued the network for wrongful termination.

Tennis Announcer Doug Adler Sues ESPN for Wrongful Termination

Doug Adler, a former tennis pro, said the remark on Jan. 18 during Williams’ 6-3, 6-2 win over Stefanie Voegele in Melbourne. Adler claims he was describing the American’s aggressive, net-charging playing strategy as the “guerrilla effect,” and not “gorilla effect,” as many people believed he did given the similarity of the two words’ pronunciation. The 58-year-old commentator was allegedly referencing a style of play made famous in the 1990s.

He later apologized for his comment but was still fired by ESPN mid-tournament.

Several Twitter users, including New York Times tennis writer Ben Rothenberg, rapidly called for Adler’s termination following his comment.


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Adler had been with ESPN since 2008. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, reiterated Adler said “guerrilla” adding “ESPN bowed to pressure from those using social media, including Twitter, who mistakenly believed Adler used the word ‘gorilla’ to describe Venus Williams.”

The commentator said he was “treated badly and unfairly,” and that after he realized that his remarks were beginning to tarnish his reputation, he knew that he would have to “fight for his name.”

The lawsuit claims ESPN’s termination of him “has since caused other employers to shun Adler, causing Adler serious financial and emotional harm.” Consequently, Adler is seeking an undisclosed amount in compensation and damages.

According to the Southern California News Group, Adler only became aware that his comment had drawn controversy after ESPN replayed the tape for him 24 hours later and asked him and his broadcast partner whether they noticed anything unusual. Neither did, per Adler, who was then explained what specifically had caused the backlash.

“They told me the Twitter world had basically started labeling me as a racist,” Adler said.

In his on-air apology– which ESPN wrote for him– Adler said he “simply and inadvertently chose the wrong word to describe her play,” before adding of Williams, “She’s a great champion and I respect her immensely.”

The lawsuit also notes that “Guerrilla Tennis” was the name of a Nike TV commercial 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 “guerrilla” in a 2012 profile of Agnieszka Radwanska, according to court papers.

When reached for comment on the lawsuit, ESPN told The Washington Post on Tuesday, “We have not been served.” The network declined to comment further.

Williams and her younger sister Serena have been victims of racism at major tennis tournaments several times.

One of the most prominent racist episodes occurred in 2001 when the Williams sisters were jeered, and according to their father Richard, called racial epithets at Indian Wells in California. The incident was so nasty that the sisters, who would go on to achieve the sport’s highest honors, decided to boycott the event for 13 years.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 24: Venus Williams of the United States plays a forehand in her quarterfinal match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia on day nine of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 24, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

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