Missing the Man on the Mic: Doug Adler Confident He’ll Return to Citi Open in 2018
Steve Fogleman in Washington
The 49th installment of Washington’s tennis tournament has so much going for it. A true world-class player field. A real World #2 in Simona Halep. Expanded tailgate options. Cocktail competitions. Decent weather!
But it’s missing something this year. As you come out to see Simona Halep, Jack Sock, Dominic Thiem, Kei Nishikori and Juan Martin del Potro later today, those little headsets you’ll be wearing won’t be the same because Citi Open Radio is missing its signature commentator, Doug Adler. Adler was with Citi Open ever since the tournament’s been called Citi Open and has been the go-to guy on the earpiece. His excellent reporting from Stadium Court allowed me to roam the outer courts all these years without ever missing anything happening inside the stadium. In 2012, during the women’s final, Adler and Marc Sterne invited me on the broadcast where I surprised them by picking underdog Magdalena Rybarikova to upset Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova–which she did.
You’ve probably heard about the disastrous misunderstanding flamed by internet trolls which resulted in Adler’s hiatus from the Citi Open this year.
If you haven’t heard, let’s say that Adler was fired by ESPN after a speedy social media witch trial forced the broadcasting giant’s limp hand.
During an early round match at this year’s Australian Open on ESPN3, the 59-year-old announcer and former USC standout, who’s given his life to tennis, remarked that when Venus Williams charged the net on a second serve, she possessed a “guerilla effect.” Now, the term “guerilla tennis” has been around for a long time. It’s been used by Nike in an ad campaign and has been used by highly-respected tennis writer Peter Bodo.
Adler, who didn’t even use social media at the time, had no idea that a few twitter users passed instant judgment on his alleged remarks, and those twiterrati were clearly unaware that he’d devoted countless hours volunteering in youth tennis events in Central Los Angeles, his beloved hometown. His own co-commentator was also completely unaware of any controversy after the match until an ESPN executive came calling on them the next day in Melbourne. Adler apologized on-air for any potential misunderstanding as ESPN had demanded, even though he did nothing wrong. He was summarily yanked from a broadcast and fired the next day, ESPN execs deciding to throw him under the bus and avoid any controversy. This from the same company that just published poll results of the “50 Greatest Black Athletes” — as conducted by ESPN using the website “Survey Monkey.”
Let me make this clear. I ultimately lay the blame on his firing on no one but ESPN. An Executive of a major corporation (or a nation) who sets policy based on the current twitter feed is unfit to lead either. Generally speaking, twitter is a bunch of idiots. And anyone who consumes all of their news or makes major decisions based on a twitter feed is an idiot.
Adler’s horror story is emblematic of so much that is wrong with America in 2017: the way social media trolls destroy careers, the spinelessness of big corporations when offered a chance to stand behind an ordinary employee and yes, of political correctness run amok.
That is not what this post is about. It’s about Doug Adler as an excellent human being who’s given his all to the game and has never uttered a racial slur in his life. The worst part of Adler’s story isn’t that the Alt-Right decided to use his firing as a gotcha moment to lambaste the ‘mainstream’ media. The worst part is that Adler suffered a heart attack and nearly died a couple of months after his wrongful discharge from ESPN. When I spoke with him about a week ago, he didn’t want to argue his case about it. He’ll have his chance in the California judicial system.
He sounded sad, like any of us would have if we’d been smeared out of a career.
Adler knows who he is and who he isn’t, and so do colleagues who have worked with him. So does everyone who’s ever known him, so he’s understandably optimistic that he’ll get his career and his good name restored after this “horrible” year in which he “almost died.”
“I’m going to miss being at Citi Open this year,” he told me. “I love the people, the fans, the whole tournament. It’s a great atmosphere and I am going to miss everyone in the booth and I look forward to coming back next year.”
The matter may need to settle out of court for that to happen. His case against ESPN is scheduled for trial in the fall of 2018. In any event, I’ll be rooting for Doug Adler all the way and hope to hear his voice throughout the grounds of Citi Open for years to come.