Last night as part of the pregame of Warriors-Cavs game three ESPN brought on Disney employee Steve Harvey to discuss the upcoming game on SportsCenter. This was a fairly standard example of a company choosing to promote another show, in this case, Celebrity Family Feud, which will be airing on ABC affiliates nationwide, and is hosted by Harvey.
The appearance on SportsCenter probably would have gone without notice except that Harvey decided to compare the Golden State Warrior players to gorillas. “You can’t stop them boys,” Harvey said, “They’ve got too many gorillas on the team. They coming to play, man. They got 800 pound gorillas on they team.”
Perhaps aware that ESPN’s parent company, Disney, has recently been embroiled in their own apes controversy with Roseanne, ESPN elected to scrub Harvey’s gorilla reference from the clips they shared on social media. But several Outkick readers saw the interview live and it is posted on YouTube here:
So how is it that Harvey can come on ESPN and compare an entire team of majority black athletes to gorillas and no one else in the mainstream sports media even takes note other than me. That’s especially the case when you consider the recent contretemps involving Roseanne being fired from Disney/ABC, the very network that will air Family Feud starring Steve Harvey, for comparing a black person to an ape on Twitter.
While I’m sure Disney could and will make the argument that Harvey’s statements comparing black people to primates weren’t pejorative like Roseanne’s — — he’s saying that the Warriors are strong and tough competitors like gorillas in the jungle, I suppose, even though most of the Warrior players aren’t very muscular or physically imposing — Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Shaun Livingston, JaVale McGee, Nick Young, Kevan Looney and Patrick McCaw would be an awful weightlifting team — Harvey’s comments do raise an even more interesting double standard when it comes to the way Disney and ESPN treated tennis commentator Doug Adler.
Last year then-ESPN employee Doug Adler was calling an Australian Open tennis match featuring Venus Williams when he referred to Venus charging the net as “guerrilla effect” tennis. Meaning that Venus was surprising her opponent by charging the net when her opponent didn’t expect it. He meant guerrilla as in the warfare, not gorilla as in the animal. And if you have any doubt about that, ask yourself this, if you compare a human to an animal do you ever append the word effect after it? Of course not. If you say someone is strong like a gorilla you say they are strong like a gorilla, not strong like a gorilla effect.
After a shared snippet of the match went public on Twitter a New York Times reported Tweeted that Adler was comparing Venus to a gorilla. In the ensuing social media uproar ESPN insisted that Adler apologize for his word choice and then fired him.
That’s despite the fact that Adler did nothing at all wrong.
After Outkick featured Adler’s story on the radio, the Today Show picked up on the absurdity of ESPN’s actions, running this story last summer.
Adler is currently suing Disney and ESPN, arguing he didn’t use the word gorilla at all, he used the word guerrilla and that his firing was unjust. In support of his lawsuit he has attached one of the most iconic tennis commercials of all time featuring Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. The title of that ad? Guerrilla Tennis.
Adler was so distraught over being fired and being branded a racist by ESPN that he suffered a heart attack that nearly killed him and has spent months convalescing. Adler’s doctors say that based on stress tests they gave him before and after the public firing, they have no doubt that the stress caused his heart attack. A year later Adler remains unemployed, a pariah over his use of the word guerrilla during a black person’s tennis match.
This leaves us with a fascinating modern parable on the absurdity of the way we police race and speech in this country. Adler, a white man broadcasting a tennis match to a tiny audience watching on their computers, isn’t allowed to use the word guerrilla during a tennis match featuring a black player because he could be guilty of homophonic racism, indeed, he’s fired for it, but Steve Harvey is allowed to come on ESPN/ABC’s broadcast of the NBA Finals and compare multiple black players on the Golden State Warriors to gorillas.
Tell me how this isn’t a glaring double standard.
One man, who happens to be black, is allowed to make a comparison of a team of majority black basketball players to gorillas and the other man, who happens to be white, isn’t even allowed to use the word guerrilla during a tennis match featuring a black athlete. It’s pure insanity.
Furthermore, can you imagine the reaction had any white Disney or ESPN employee said the same thing on air as Steve Harvey? God forbid, can you imagine if Brian Windhorst had called the Warriors a team full of gorillas?
It would be the lead story on every broadcast in America and no one would give a white broadcaster the benefit of the doubt for what Harvey said. He would be immediately fired and probably never work again.
Now, to be clear, I don’t believe Steve Harvey should be fired for what he said, but isn’t it worth asking why Disney and ESPN gives the benefit of the doubt to Steve Harvey and immediately fires Doug Adler? And, hell, if I represented Roseanne would I definitely want to know why Harvey, a black comedian, can come on ESPN and compare black basketball players to gorillas and Roseanne, a white comedian, gets fired for a Tweet sent in her spare time doing the same thing? Sure, Disney can make the argument that context matters as it pertains to Roseanne and Harvey and that’s why it treated both employees differently. But is that really a very strong argument here? Could Roseanne have simply argued she meant the comparison of Valerie Jarrett to an ape as a compliment and not an insult?
Of course not.
If it’s racist to compare black people to apes or gorillas it should be racist to compare black people to apes or gorillas no matter who does it.
But at least a difference in treatment is arguably defensible when it comes to Roseanne and Steve Harvey.
Disney’s speech standard becomes even more absurd when it’s applied to Doug Adler, because Adler didn’t even use the same word as Harvey.
We have such an egregious double standard being applied here by the same company that a white person can’t even use a word that sounds like gorilla during a sports broadcast featuring a black athlete yet a black person can come on the air and directly compare black athletes to gorillas.
And the white guy gets fired!
At the very least ESPN should issue a public apology to Doug Adler today, return him his job, and apologize for the way they’ve treated him for the past year. Or Disney/ESPN should cut him a check for a million dollars or more and let him return to his life.
As is, Disney and ESPN’s position is indefensible. They’re establishing standards of speech that are inconsistent for Harvey, Roseanne, and, particularly Doug Adler. White people can say one thing, black people can say another.
In modern day America, that shouldn’t fly.
But at Disney/ESPN, it happens every day.
Welcome to Disney CEO Bob Iger’s America, where all that matters when it comes to freedom of speech, is the color of your skin and, frequently, how left wing your political opinions are.
Clearly. We know there’s a double standard. I can honestly say I’ll do my best to not let this bs bother me anymore. I’m grateful to have survived their bogus accusations. Clay, thank you for fighting for what is right and the truth…No matter what the odds.
— Doug Adler (@dougadlertennis) June 7, 2018