ESPN Faces Wrongful Termination Suit: Tennis Announcer Fired for Racist Venus Williams Comment

One of ESPN’s tennis commentators was fired last month after accusations of “racist language” when describing Venus William’s playing style during the Australian Open. Doug Adler, former ESPN tennis commentator, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against ESPN feeling that he had been treated both badly and unfairly.

The controversial comment made by former ESPN tennis commentator, Doug Adler, occurred on January 18th during Venus Williams’s 6-3, 6-2 victory over Stefanie Voegele. Many reported hearing Adler say, “You see Venus move in and put the gorilla effect on, charging.” Twitter exploded with negative responses and appalled reactions. Some called for the immediate termination of the 58-year old former tennis pro, who had been working as a tennis commentator for ESPN since 2008. The next day, Adler apologized, but made sure to clarify that his words were misinterpreted and that he had actually said, “guerilla effect,” in reference to a style of play that was made famous in the 1990s.

Adler’s lawsuit was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court, where he reiterated that he said “guerilla” and noted that ESPN was simply bowing to pressure from social media users when they fired him from his job because social media users believed and actively promoted that he had used the word “gorilla” to describe Venus Williams.

Adler sees the lawsuit as one of the few options he has to fight for his reputation amidst the escalating misinterpretations of his comment. In response to the firing from his position at ESPN, Adler has had other employers in the industry “shun” him resulting in major financial and emotional harm. He is seeking an undisclosed amount in compensation and damages.

Adler was unaware of the controversy caused by the comment until 24 hours later. At that time, ESPN replayed the tape for him and his broadcast partner, asking them if they noticed anything unusual. According to Adler, they didn’t. He states that he was then informed that it had gone viral and why. He was advised that the Twitter community was branding him as a racist. At that point, ESPN instructed Adler to issue an on air apology for the remark, which they wrote for him. Adler issued the apology, did not call any more matches that day and was fired the next.  

Adler’s attorney insists that the entire situation is ironic as Adler called everything professionally and correctly, while ESPN failed to do so. They recklessly made the wrong call and stuck to it. It is being labeled political correctness gone overboard as well as cowardly. Most of all, the actions of ESPN may have ruined a man’s career. When originally commenting upon Adler’s termination, ESPN stated that he should have been more careful in his word selection.

If you aren’t sure what constitutes wrongful termination, please get in touch with one of the experienced southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.