A former ESPN tennis analyst who sued the sports network after being fired in 2017 due to his description of Venus Williams’ style of play was removed from another announcing job in Indian Wells four years earlier for a comment about the ages of the line judges, according to documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Doug Adler maintains his use of the word “guerrilla” was misinterpreted by some critics, many on social media, who thought he was using the racially offensive term “gorilla” regarding Williams and the black tennis star’s performance in the 2017 Australian Open.
But according to Adler’s deposition testimony, excerpts of which are contained in ESPN’s recent court documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, he acknowledged that another television organization removed him from further work during competition in the Coachella Valley in 2013 when he suggested the ages of some of the line judges played a role in their incorrect calls.
Adler said he and his fellow commentator were calling a match at Indian Wells between Briton Andy Murray and Russian competitor Evgeny Donskoy. Both players were questioning the calls of the line judges, according to Adler.
“Why do you think it is that there have been so many problems here at Indian Wells with the line calls?,” Adler’s commentator partner asked, according to Adler.
“Well, maybe it’s because they use elderly lines people,” Adler replied.
Adler said his partner laughed and “made a joke of it. We went on. The line calls got a little better.”
Adler went on to say that Indian Wells uses “elderly people” from the city to call matches because “you know, most of these people don’t get paid very much money.”
Each time the players challenged the calls, they were proven by tracking software to be correct, according to Adler.
Adler said his boss contacted him at the end of the day and told him, “Doug, we’re going to have to remove you from the tournament. You made the comment referring to people as elderly here in the desert and you can’t really do that.”
Adler said he had second thoughts about the remark.
“If I had to do it all over again, even though it was accurate, I wouldn’t do it,” Adler testified.
When pressed by an ESPN lawyer whether he would make the same comment about Williams’ style of play again, Adler’s attorney interrupted and blocked the inquiry.
Asked by the ESPN lawyer if the Indian Wells incident was similar to what happened during the Australian Open, Adler answered, “Not similar at all.”
The allegations in Adler’s complaint, filed in February 2017, include wrongful termination and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Although tennis experts commonly use the term “guerrilla tennis” to describe aggressive tactics, ESPN “bowed to the Twitter universe of haters and those ignorant of tennis who thought (Adler) used the word gorilla to describe Venus Williams that day,” according to his lawsuit.
ESPN Senior Vice President Mark Gross and the network’s vice president, Jamie Reynolds, are also named as defendants.
The lawsuit alleges that other employers shunned Adler following ESPN’s firing of him shortly after the Jan. 18 Williams match.
But when asked by the ESPN attorney during the deposition if anybody at the sports network told him he could never work future events for them after the remark regarding Williams, Adler answered, “No one told me that. But I figured by the way they handled my situation by labeling me a racist that they weren’t going to be bringing me back.”
When the ESPN lawyer asked who labeled him a racist, Adler replied, “By the way they (ESPN) handled it, they created the situation that social media had started and they just went along with it by throwing me to the wolves, intentionally or not intentionally, making me a racist for the rest of my life.”
The deposition excerpts were filed as part of ESPN’s motion to dismiss Adler’s suit. A hearing on the dismissal motion is scheduled June 21.
“Guerrilla Tennis” was the name of a Nike TV commercial in the 1990s featuring Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.
In their court papers, ESPN lawyers state that Adler “issued an apology on Jan. 19 saying he was speaking about Ms. Williams’ tactics and strategy and that he chose the wrong word to describe her play.”
The network “concluded that he should have been more careful in his word selection and (ESPN) exercised the right remove him from providing announcer services for the remaining three days of ESPN’s coverage of the Australian Open,” according to the ESPN court papers.
Adler lives in Los Angeles and was an All-American player at USC.
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