During last year's Orlando bubble, Rachel Nichols was recorded making diversity remarks in connection to her colleague Maria Taylor. According to the leaked audio, the courtside reporter was seemingly annoyed that ESPN’s NBA Finals coverage in 2020 went to Taylor, a woman of color. Rachel thought ESPN’s decision was not out of merit but the pressure to increase diversity in assignments. Keep in mind the “Black Lives Matter” protests peaked while the NBA was holding its season inside the Orlando Bubble.
“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.”
Rachel Nichols on the leaked tape
According to reports, Nichols' contract specified she was getting to host the NBA Finals Coverage. However, ESPN called the shots, and Taylor got the position. Ever since, tensions have been high at ESPN, and it reached boiling point during the Playoffs.
How ESPN responded
It was only now that the issue had been brought up after the NY Times published the story reporting about the conflict brewing in Bristol. ESPN seemingly shrugged off the problem, and no sanctions were given to Nichols; at least nothing was made public. When Taylor found out about the recorded call, she was frustrated, and tensions were evident in the workplace. It came to a point where Nichols and Taylor had to do recordings separately and make it appear they were doing shows together.
ESPN threatened no live appearances by sideline reporters if Taylor "refused to interact" with Nichols, which some ESPN employees said would have unfairly punished everyone except Nichols for her to keep her position. The only person who suffered any sanctions after the recording got out was digital video producer Kayla Johnson, who was responsible for sending Maria the phone call recording. She was suspended without pay by ESPN.
No Nichols on the sidelines
Yesterday ESPN announced that Rachel Nichols wouldn't be on the sidelines during the NBA finals. The company said she would continue to host The Jump, which was also off the air on Tuesday. As the company explained it, the decision was made to "keep the focus on the NBA Finals."
In 2020, ESPN suspended Adrian Wojnarowski after the latter tweeted “F*ck You” in response to US Senator Josh Hawley. Woj was suspended indefinitely because of his actions. He has been reinstated since, but if ESPN punished their guy for being out of line, why did it take so long to make a decision about Nichols?
Well, she has a contract saying Nichols will host the Finals. The other legal issue ESPN is facing is that the recording of Nichols was made secretly and then shared through the company, which falls under invasion of privacy. I'm not a lawyer, but my money would be on Nichols if she ever wanted to take this to court.
Nichols revealed she has reached out several times to Taylor to apologize. She also recently released a public apology. But it seems Taylor wasn't content and didn't find the apology genuine. Taylor's contract is due to expire during the Finals - whether she's on ESPN during an eventual Game 7 will tell us a lot.
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