Fired commentator sues over Venus description

US Venus Williams hitting a return against France's Kristina Mladenovic during the second round of the WTA St Petersburg Ladies Trophy 2017 tennis tournament in Saint Petersburg on Feb 2, 2017.
US Venus Williams hitting a return against France's Kristina Mladenovic during the second round of the WTA St Petersburg Ladies Trophy 2017 tennis tournament in Saint Petersburg on Feb 2, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK • The ESPN tennis commentator who was fired last month after being accused of using racist language to describe Venus Williams' playing style at the Australian Open has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the network.

Doug Adler's controversial comment came on Jan 18 during Williams' 6-3, 6-2 victory over Stefanie Voegele, when he said what many heard as, "You see Venus move in and put the gorilla effect on, charging."

Many on Twitter, including New York Times tennis writer Ben Rothenberg, reacted quickly, calling for the termination of the 58-year-old former pro, whom ESPN hired in 2008.

Adler ended up apologising on air the next day, and clarified that he said "guerilla effect", referring to a style of play made famous in the 1990s.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, reiterated that Adler said "guerilla", noting "ESPN bowed to pressure from those using social media, including Twitter, who mistakenly believed Adler used the word 'gorilla' to describe Venus Williams".

"I knew I'd been treated badly and unfairly," Adler told the Southern California News Group on Tuesday. "When I saw what it was doing to my reputation, I knew I'd have to fight for my name."

The lawsuit alleges ESPN's firing of him "has since caused other employers to shun Adler, causing Adler serious financial and emotional harm".

As a result, Adler is seeking an undisclosed amount in compensation and damages.

According to the Southern California News Group, he was only informed that his comment caused controversy when ESPN replayed the tape for him 24 hours later and asked him and his broadcast partner whether they noticed anything unusual.

They did not, according to Adler, who said he was then told about why it had gone viral.

"They told me the Twitter world had basically started labelling me as a racist," he said.

Adler said ESPN instructed him to issue an apology on air, which the network wrote for him.

He said he "simply and inadvertently chose the wrong word to describe her play", and added of Williams, "She's a great champion and I respect her immensely."

Adler did not call any more matches after that and the next day he was fired, he said.

When reached for comment on the lawsuit, ESPN told The Post on Tuesday, "We have not been served."

The network declined to comment further.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'Fired commentator sues over Venus description'. Print Edition | Subscribe