A former ESPN announcer in the middle of a lawsuit against the company said Wednesday that he had suffered a heart attack linked to stress from the legal dispute.
Doug Adler told Fox Sports Radio’s Clay Travis that he was taken to the hospital Tuesday and was still there. Adler said doctors blamed the heart attack on stress stemming from people calling him a racist.
Adler came under fire for a comment on Jan. 18 while he was calling a Venus Williams match at the Australian Open. He described Williams as using the “the guerilla effect” during a play in her match.
The lawsuit said that the comment went viral because it was pushed along by The New York Times on Twitter labelling it as the “appalling” term “gorilla,” which “ignited the flames of anger and hatred." Adler was fired two days later.
“By the way ESPN chose to handle this non-issue, they effectively branded me, my character and my reputation for the rest of my life,” Adler told Fox News last month.
Adler “has lost future opportunities in the sporting and business worlds because no one will hire a ‘racist,’” the lawsuit said. “He has suffered serious emotional distress and harm because he has been falsely accused of being the worst thing imaginable, and something he clearly isn’t and never has been, all over the use of the word ‘guerilla,’ a word that is commonly used in tennis.”
In addition to wrongful termination, Adler is also claiming intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and economic hardship. The suit also names ESPN Senior Vice President Mark Gross and Vice President Jamie Reynolds. It seeks unspecified damages.
Adler claims that ESPN and its executives knew that he used the word “guerilla” and not “gorilla,” but fired him anyway. He had finished work without a word from his managers following the incident and returned the next day.
“I was eating in the lounge area when the boss showed up out of the blue,” Adler said. “He was bowing to pressure because it was all over twitter.”
Adler was told to apologize on air and he complied. But instead of resuming his broadcasting, he was pulled from the show and fired the next day. He was “told he was done working tennis at ESPN,” the complaint said.
The word “guerilla” has been used for decades in the tennis world. The complaint mentions “Guerilla Tennis,” the name of a famous 1995 Nike television ad campaign featuring superstars Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras setting up an impromptu tennis match in the middle of a busy city intersection. The ad ran during the US Open and was profiled again in a 2015 Vanity Fair article after the tennis stars reunited for a similar rematch in the streets of New York.
The term is also used as the name of a Twitter account called Guerilla Tennis started in 2014 by a tennis enthusiast.
“The irony is that Adler called everything correctly and in a professional manner, whereas ESPN did not – they recklessly made the wrong call,” said Adler’s attorney, David Ring, in a statement. “It was not only political correctness gone overboard, but also a cowardly move that ruined a good man’s career.”
Ryan Gaydos is a news editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @RyanGaydos.