Rachel Nichols, Maria Taylor, ESPN Race Fueled Rift, Call Leak
Posted On July 4, 2021
A leaked recording of a phone conversation last year created a predicament for ESPN, pitting two of the network’s most visible female broadcasters against one another, according to an article in the New York Times on Sunday.
The dispute dates back to the NBA Finals broadcast last year, when ESPN executives chose Maria Taylor over Rachel Nichols to be the main host for the network’s coverage.
A disgruntled Nichols discussed her frustration at not being chosen during a phone call with Adam Mendelsohn, longtime advisor to Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James. During the call, Nichols expressed his opinion that Taylor got the assignment because the network felt pressure to improve its track record on race issues.
“I wish Maria Taylor all the best in the world – she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols said in an audio clip released by The Times. “If you need to give her more to do because you feel the pressure from your long-standing record for diversity – which, by the way, I know personally on the female side – go for it. . Just find it somewhere else. You’re not going to find it in my house or take my thing away. “
According to the Times, the call was recorded by a camera Nichols had in his hotel room that allowed him to appear on camera from the NBA bubble. The content was recorded on a video server at ESPN headquarters, where any number of employees could have access.
At least one person recorded a copy of the call on a cell phone, reports the Times, and the content quickly spread throughout the company.
The only person sanctioned for the incident, the Times said, was a digital video producer who told ESPN’s human resources department that she shared the video with Taylor. The producer, a black woman, was suspended for two weeks without pay and has since left the company.
Nichols told The Times that she was “offloading the ESPN process to a friend, not Maria.” She said she contacted Taylor via text and phone calls, but never received a response.
The tension between the two remained throughout the current NBA season, as Taylor continued to host the network’s pre-game show “NBA Countdown”, with all of Nichols’ segments pre-recorded for them. were not forced to interact.
The Times also reports that there was a heated discussion between ESPN executives and broadcast staff during a conference call ahead of the playoffs start in late May. During that call, several people, including “Countdown” co-hosts Jalen Rose and Adrian Wojnarowski, expressed their support for Taylor – to the point that they considered refusing to appear on the air. Eventually, the network turned the tide.
Taylor’s contract with the network is due to expire in less than three weeks, and there have been “few substantial steps,” according to the Times, to a new one.
ESPN is expected to broadcast the NBA Finals between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.