Sports commentator Doug Adler says ESPN wrongly fired him for reportedly calling Venus Williams a racial slur, and he’s filed a lawsuit suing the sports agency and saying that he is now unemployable.
But ESPN says they had no obligation to keep Adler on as a commentator, since he was a freelancer, and therefore, his lawsuit is baseless, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Adler was a sportscaster for the 2017 Australian Open when he reportedly called Williams a gorilla. That comment went viral, but Adler countered that claim, saying that he was instead referring to her guerilla-style on the court.
That explanation didn’t stick with ESPN and Adler was released from his gig as commentator. In the lawsuit, ESPN says that there was no contractual agreement between Adler and their agency. Instead, they say he was paid for whatever work he completed at will.
“ESPN had no contractual obligation to put Adler on the air; its contractual obligation was to pay him for seven days of possible work,” states ESPN’s motion. “ESPN did pay Adler; he received 100% of his daily rate for all seven days of the coverage of the 2017 Australian Open, including days he did not work. ESPN was under no contractual obligation to retain Adler for a future announcing assignment.”
Adler said the backlash from his firing over the Serena Williams remark has been swift.
“They (ESPN) killed me, they made me unemployable. They ended my career, they killed my reputation, my good name. What else was I supposed to do?” told NBC’s Today show last August.
“They didn’t have good cause and I didn’t do anything wrong,” Adler said.
But ESPN believes differently about the incident involving Venus Williams.
“No ’cause’ was needed,” responds ESPN in court. “[B]ut even if cause were required, Adler’s controversial comment supplied it. It is unnecessary to decide whether Adler meant ‘gorilla’ or ‘guerrilla’; even crediting Adler’s spin, he chose his words poorly and provoked a public outcry that ESPN had to take steps to quell, to stem criticism of Adler and ESPN itself and return the focus to the competition on the court.”
CORRECTION: The original post incorrectly identified Serena Williams as the target of the commentator’s comment.