USA

ESPN tennis analyst Doug Adler still paying for absurd racist accusation

It’s Australian Open time, and the only way Doug Adler can awaken from his nightmare is if he falls asleep to dream it’s not happening.

What was supposed to have had a reasonably happy ending — his total exoneration and full restoration of his career and reputation despite suffering a stress-blamed heart attack and the three-year loss of his broadcasting assignments to a fraudulent character assassination — has not occurred.

Hasn’t even gone sideways. It has grown worse.

Adler continues to be treated as a pariah for a crime he so clearly did not commit. Everyone in tennis knows it, but modern societal madness causes fright. It’s easier to let him rot.

You likely recall Adler, now 61, an ESPN tennis analyst, a walk-on All-American at USC, as the victim of ESPN’s and the New York Times’ preposterous prosecution of him as an unrestrained, on-air racist that led to his firing as he called the 2017 Australian Open.

That was the episode in which Adler complimented Venus Williams for her successful “guerilla” tactics in poaching the net. Guerilla-style tennis had become such a regularly spoken term that Nike starred Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras in a commercial playing “guerilla tennis.”

Just after Adler praised Williams’ guerilla tactics, Ben Rothenberg, a freelancer covering for the New York Times, recklessly tweeted that Adler had just racially slurred her as “a gorilla,” adding, “It’s horrifying that the Williams sisters have to be subjected to this in 2017.”

It was an absurd take, one ESPN should’ve ignored or led to telling Rothenberg to get lost, perhaps even demanding a retraction from the writer and Times for defaming their man with a toxic claim.

But that tweet carried the digital signature of the New York Times, thus ESPN panicked like Chicken Little. Figuring a published attack would next be leveled at Adler and ESPN, ESPN fired him. As a B-team analyst, Adler was expendable to be sacrificed, burned as a witch.

And no one — absolutely no one in the tennis world, including the race and gender justice-seeking Williams sisters and the ESPN A-team that included Chris Evert and John McEnroe, nor those champs at Nike — defended Adler as the victim of a smear rooted in a conspicuously rotten guess.

All knew Adler said nothing racist, that he was unconditionally innocent. But they let him burn as if unwilling to risk secondhand smoke.

And after nine consecutive Aussie Open gigs, Adler was thrown out, left to ask himself what the hell just happened.

Of course, The Times never did a follow on Rothenberg’s claim, perhaps because it was recognized, likely immediately, as bogus. Yet The Times did not and still has not printed one word of clarification, let alone support for Adler as the victim of a Times report that Adler said what he never said.

Why would the New York Times decry or even note the prosecution and persecution of an innocent man when The Times got that bogus ball rolling? And ESPN continued to embrace the claim that Adler, out of the blue and for no perceptible reason, decided to slur Williams as a gorilla.

So they allowed an innocent man to rot on Devil’s Island.

In February, Adler appeared to have finally received satisfaction. ESPN settled his wrongful termination suit out of court then promised to restore his tennis workload. He was made whole, again. Or so he thought.

Instead, very bad has grown worse. ESPN, which quickly assigned him to call two college tennis matches on regional networks, has since ignored him. He was not reassigned to call the Aussie Open despite his nine years at it for ESPN.

His other broadcasting gigs — eight years of calling Wimbledon for ESPN, nine years calling the French Open for The Tennis Channel, 10 years of contributing to the world feed of the U.S. Open for the USTA and other assignments — have not been restored.

And with The Times’ and ESPN’s illogical, reprehensible cowardice, Adler remains branded a racist. It’s on his permanent Internet record: He called Venus Williams a gorilla.

“I’ve been told by people in the tennis business that I will never be hired again,” Adler said from his home in L.A. “I’ve been blackballed as a racist by a ludicrous claim.

“They all know I didn’t call her a gorilla — it’s crazy to think I would — but here I sit.

“It’s surreal, a bad dream.”

Tune in to see promos for upcoming games!

If only ESPN spent as much time, energy and attention showing its games as it does hyping them …

Last weekend, throughout Kentucky-Arkansas, the theme was constant: ESPN will have a full day of fabulous college games! Meantime, as Arkansas kept it close, ESPN ignored the game.

A charge call against Kentucky sent John Calipari flying from the sideline in a stomping rage. With plenty of time, ESPN failed to replay the play. It instead showed a so-what basket two possessions earlier.

Soon, the Arkansas bench went basketball-istic after a foul was called on a missed Kentucky 3-point try. Again with plenty of time, ESPN never replayed the play. It was too busy selling the next game.

Silvio De Sousa
Silvio De SousaGetty Images

Wonder if that Kansas State-Kansas game-ending brawl that spilled into the disabled persons’ seating section will enter the debate the next time ESPN college analysts such as Seth Greenberg declare their let’s-have-fun support for court-storming.

On the subject of brawls, a rule I’d like to see: Any time a player follows a slam dunk by mean-mugging into his opponent’s face, that should be a technical foul — even if it doesn’t alter the selection of ESPN’s Top 10 highlights.

That would curtail the likelihood of brawls and, God forbid, might help restore some civility to a sport.

Pay players with what $$$?

Say, let’s pay all those full scholarship student-athletes! Right on, Jay Bilas! But with what?

Locally, Rutgers is losing tens of millions annually on student- and taxpayer-funded sports. UConn, another state school, last week acknowledged its financial deficit run up by the athletic department last year increased by millions more than the year before.

The Cincinnati Enquirer recently reported that last year the University of Cincinnati lost $30 million on sports, Miami of Ohio lost $27 million and Kent State more than $20 million. All are publicly funded colleges.

For two guys who wouldn’t dare hit the air without scouring the daily newspapers for info to lift, WFAN’s Evan Roberts and Joe Benigno continue to take lots of shots at newspapers and their sportswriters.

Heck, I can recall when Roberts’ family shopped him to newspapers as a radio sports talk child prodigy.