Venus Williams’ win over Stefanie Voegele in the second round of the Australian Open Wednesday came with a side of controversy, with many on Twitter (and some media outlets) blasting ESPN over commentator Doug Adler’s perceived comments about Williams’ “gorilla effect.” Some even called for Adler’s firing.
However, Adler said Thursday he said “guerrilla effect,” and he apologized for how he “simply and inadvertently chose the wrong word,” one that could be interpreted as a racial slur.
Update: ESPN issued an statement Thursday night that Adler has been removed from “his remaining assignments”:
“During an Australian Open stream on ESPN3, Doug Adler should have been more careful in his word selection. He apologized and we have removed him from his remaining assignments.”
Here are the comments in question:
“She misses a first serve and Venus is all over her. You see Venus move in and put the guerrilla effect on. Charging.”
That’s not a great choice of words even if Adler (a former player who’s been working as a commentator for some time now) said “guerrilla.” There’s no particular reason to compare Williams to irregular combatants, and really, charging the net is an aggressive and open move, something that also doesn’t have a lot of resemblance to guerrilla warfare. (And why is there a need to make analogies to warfare of any sort in a tennis match?)However, “guerrilla” is much less problematic than “gorilla,” and there doesn’t appear to be any particular reason to disbelieve Adler’s claim he didn’t say the latter.
This is yet another reminder that media figures need to be careful with their word choices (and, for television or radio figures, careful with what those words sound like as well). There are plenty of other ways to describe Williams being aggressive, and most of them wouldn’t have caused any controversy. Word choice matters, and this incident’s another reminder of that.