Leaked comments being exposed by The New York Times has caused major controversy inside ESPN after audio showed Rachel Nichols speaking about Black colleague Maria Taylor hosting the NBA Finals last season in the Orlando Bubble.
“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols reportedly said in July 2020. “If you need to give her more things to do because you are feeling pressure about your crappy longtime record on diversity — which, by the way, I know personally from the female side of it — like, go for it. Just find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing away.”
The New York Times even reported that several of the company’s top NBA analysts had considered boycotting this year’s playoffs over how ESPN handled the situation. When Taylor was made aware of Nichols’ comments, she reportedly refused to work on the air with her. ESPN seemingly complied by pre-recording all of Nichols’ NBA Countdown hits.
Things only got worse this year when ESPN reportedly informed the NBA Countdown team that if Taylor refused to interact with Nichols, there would be no sideline reporter interactions at all. It led to a heated pre-show call with some of ESPN’s top basketball talent.
“On the pre-show call involving the stars of the show and production staff in both Los Angeles and New York, Taylor insisted to an executive that she be able to conduct live interviews with sideline reporters. She also brought up the recorded phone conversation. Wojnarowski jumped in and called Nichols a bad teammate. Rose said that ESPN had asked a lot from Black employees over the past year, but that he and other Black employees would extend their credibility to the company no longer.
Taylor, whom executives had asked numerous times to change her interactions with Nichols, said that the only people punished by ESPN’s actions were women of color: Johnson, herself and the three sideline reporters — Lisa Salters, Cassidy Hubbarth and Andrews — who received lesser assignments so that Nichols could have the lead sideline reporter role and now were not being allowed to appear on the show live.”
Contacted by The Times, Nichols said she has reached out to Taylor, but has not gotten a response.
“My own intentions in that conversation, and the opinion of those in charge at ESPN, are not the sum of what matters here — if Maria felt the conversation was upsetting, then it was, and I was the cause of that for her,” she said.