An Australian tennis announcer didn’t just cross the line; he hopped, skipped, and jumped right over it when he compared Venus Williams to a gorilla.
Williams, 36, has dominated the tennis world with her sister Serena for more than two decades. The two iconic black women have made history on the court and have been role models for young black girls everywhere.
On Wednesday, Williams was doing what she does best and annihilating her opponent, Stefanie Voegele, during the Australian Open. ESPN commentator Doug Adler was explaining Williams’ epic approach when the gorilla remark was made.
“She misses a first serve and Venus is all over her,” he said. “You see Venus move in and put the gorilla effect on. Charging.”
Now, let’s give Adler the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn’t consider the racist implications before allowing that sentence to come out of his mouth. However, the fact that he subconsciously chose a gorilla out of all the animals known for being aggressive still raises some serious issues.
In the historical context, black people have been compared to chimps, monkeys, gorillas, and apes by racists for ages due to their African ancestry, brown skin, curvaceous body types, and typically fuller lips and wider noses.
In addition to the aesthetical comparisons, racists have also used this as a means to insult black peoples’ intelligence and depict them as animalistic.
Furthermore, the “gorilla effect” is not even a real thing. It is not terminology commonly used to describe athleticism, so it just seems odd to use that phrase at all.
Once Twitter caught wind of the commentator’s remark, people lashed out with harsh criticism of Adler.
So once again Venus Williams is subjected to more racist remarks aftr an ESPN commentator said " She puts the gorilla effect on. Charging— Gabriel (@gabsy141) January 19, 2017
@ESPN needs to sack Doug Adler. Cannot be making comments like that about one of the greatest athletes in this day and age.— James Phillips (@thegreatswerve) January 19, 2017
Some came to Adler’s defense, claiming he meant “guerilla” in an attempt to compare Williams’ tactics to a strategy of war, Mic reports.
Adler is2 well educated to call tennis, apparently, can't reference guerilla warfare without millions of idiots calling him racist #AusOpen— Crackbillionair (@crackbillionair) January 19, 2017
Adler has since apologized for his poor choice of words and confirmed that he actually meant "guerilla." He claimed that he, “simply and inadvertently chose the wrong word to describe her play.”
Since the two words are pronounced exactly the same, no one can know for sure what Adler truly meant in the moment. However, the distinction could very well be a cover-up to avoid further backlash — and that’s OK, so long as this experience forces him to think twice about his word choice from now on.
This incident could be considered an example of microaggressions — which are often unintentional — but they are very real and just as offensive as overt racism.
Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: Flickr, Julie Edgley