Former tennis pro Doug Adler spoke out against ESPN claiming the network ruined his career by falsely branding him a racist when he was fired.
The tennis commentator spoke with Matt Lauer on “Today” Friday about the wrongful termination suit he brought against his former employer for accusing him of making a racially charged remark after a match featuring Venus Williams at the 2017 Australian Open.
“It just makes me absolutely sick,” Adler commented on 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.”
In an observation after Williams won an impressive point against Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele, Adler remarked, “Venus is all over her. And you’ll see Venus move in and put the guerrilla effect on, charging.”
In a politically correct culture, it didn’t take long for many viewers to be outraged for Adler’s reference to Williams, an African-American, as a “gorilla,” something he strongly denies saying.
“Nothing to do with an animal,” he told Lauer. “Everything to do with tactics, strategy, how to win the point.”
In fact, the phrase the “guerrilla effect” has been used in tennis for decades, Adler argued, including in a 1995 Nike ad named “Guerrilla Tennis” featuring Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. But his boss at ESPN informed the 59 year-old former professional tennis player that he had been branded a racist on social media.
“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. Are you kidding me?’ And he said, ‘It’s unbelievable,”’ Adler said. “He said, ‘We all know what you meant. We all know what you said.'”
Even Williams herself seemed to dismiss the comment when she was asked about it at a press conference days later.
“I pay attention and address situations that are noteworthy,” she had said.
“That’s exactly the way I read into it,” Adler said. “It was nothing.” But ESPN did not see it as nothing and fired him one day after making him apologize on the air.
Adler insisted he has “never been a racist. I’ve never looked at color. Have never even thought of that term until this whole situation came up.”
He felt the lawsuit was the only recourse he had after the way the network overreacted and mishandled the situation.
“If they have good cause to do it, they have the right,” Adler said. “But they didn’t have good cause, and I didn’t do anything wrong. And they didn’t get into it and explore. They didn’t do due diligence.”
His wrongful termination suit, filed in February, accuses ESPN of essentially ruining his broadcast career. The resulting stress even caused Adler to have a heart attack at the end of February.
“If they threw me out to the wolves and basically, essentially labeled me a racist, they killed me. They made me unemployable. They ended my career. They killed my reputation, my good name,” Adler told Lauer. “What else was I supposed to do? To me it was the easiest decision to make. I’m not going away.”
ESPN continues to deny the allegations and, in a statement to “Today,” doubled down on their decision to fire Adler.
“Adler made an inappropriate reference to Venus Williams for which he felt no apology was necessary,” the network said in the statement. “We disagree and stand 100 percent behind our decision to remove him from the 2017 Australian Open.”
ESPN has increasingly come under fire for letting its political stances overshadow its focus as a sports network, with its decisions ultimately affecting viewership. The network was widely ridiculed this week when it pulled an Asian-American broadcaster named Robert Lee from out of fear that liberals would be reminded of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
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Meanwhile, Adler can count former New York mayor David Dinkins as an ally after the African-American politician and avid tennis fan came to his defense.
“It should not have been taken that way by anyone,” Dinkins told “Today,” saying Adler’s remarks were misinterpreted and he did nothing wrong.
“I agree there is a great degree of anger there, and I’m not happy about the anger, but it’s what’s happening,” Adler said. “That’s what’s happening with me and until I’m proven, fairly, that I didn’t do anything wrong, I think it’s gonna sit with me.”
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