Rachel Nichols Made Disparaging Comments About Maria Taylor; Claims NBA Finals Gig Was ‘Diversity Hire’

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There has been some drama behind the scenes at ESPN, with Rachel Nichols suggesting the Worldwide Leader in Sports gave Maria Taylor the assignment of covering the NBA Finals because they were “feeling pressure” about diversity.

Nichols had expected to cover the finals but appeared to take issue with the network’s decision to give the nod to Taylor, who is one of the rising stars in the sports media world, according to a report from the New York Times.

“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols said in the conversation captured on video. “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 comments came during a phone call on July 13, 2020, with Adam Mendelsohn, a longtime adviser of LeBron James and James’s agent, Rich Paul.

Following the leaked conversation, Kayla Johnson, a digital video producer who sent the video to Taylor, was the only person suspended. Johnson, who is Black, was suspended two weeks without pay and has since left ESPN.

According to the report, many within ESPN are upset with the conversation and comments from Nichols.

Within ESPN, particularly among the N.B.A. group that works with both Taylor and Nichols, many employees were outraged upon watching the video. They were especially upset by what they perceived as Nichols’s expression of a common criticism used by white workers in many workplaces to disparage nonwhite colleagues — that Taylor was offered the hosting job only because of her race, not because she was the best person for the job.

The employees also said that Nichols made Taylor’s job more difficult because Taylor also needs to go to Mendelsohn to secure interviews with basketball newsmakers.

Mendelsohn commented on the leak, saying ” “I will share what I believed then and still believe to be true. Maria deserved and earned the position, and Rachel must respect it. Maria deserved it because of her work, and ESPN recognized that like many people and companies in America, they must intentionally change. Just because Maria got the job does not mean Rachel shouldn’t get paid what she deserves. Rachel and Maria should not be forced into a zero-sum game by ESPN, and Rachel needed to call them out.”

Maria Taylor has yet to comment, while Nichols says she is hurt that the conversation was leaked.

Taylor’s contract with ESPN is set to come to an end in the coming weeks, and there is no word on whether she will be returning to the network.

You can read the full report on the drama and fallout here.

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