Tennis commentator Doug Adler was fired by ESPN in the middle of the Australian Open last month after he referred to Venus Williams’ aggressive style in attacking second serves as the “gorilla effect.”
That remark led to outrage as many felt it was a racist remark against the African-American tennis star. Adler is now suing ESPN for wrongful termination as he attempts to explain that he was saying “guerrilla” not “gorilla,” and the two words sound almost identical when spoken.
In his lawsuit, Adler alleges that he was referring to an old Nike commercial about “guerrilla tennis” that featured Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. He claims that became part of the tennis vernacular and he was simply referring to her aggressive style with that phrase.
Adler’s defense of what he said makes sense, but it will be interesting to see how ESPN battles back in court. Whether it was his intent or not, many viewers felt he was making a racist comment and saying “gorilla,” even if he was trying to say “guerilla.” That outrage led to ESPN pulling him from the rest of the Australian Open broadcast. We’ll learn in this case how much intent of language matters compared to how it is perceived.
Whatever the outcome of the suit, it would be my suggestion to retire the phrase “guerrilla tennis” and try to find a different way to describe someone’s aggressive style of play.