ESPN trying to mend relationships between Maria Taylor and costar Rachel Nichols after ‘diversity’ comments

Nichols, who is white, commented that Taylor got a job hosting the 2020 NBA Finals because ESPN felt pressured to reckon with their “crappy” history with diversity

A New York Times report released Sunday morning alleges that there is heavy internal conflict throughout ESPN due to comments made nearly a year ago by broadcaster Rachel Nichols about her colleague and fellow broadcaster Maria Taylor, and that Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN’s president, is working overtime to fix the issue.

Per the article, a phone call from July 2020 was leaked between Nichols and Adam Mendelsohn, who is LeBron James’ longtime advisor, in which Nichols said that Taylor was selected to host last year’s NBA Finals coverage instead of her, for “diversity” reasons.

Maria Taylor and James Pitaro look on prior to the College Football Playoff National Championship game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Alabama Crimson Tide at Hard Rock Stadium on January 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball. 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,” Nichols said.

Unbeknownst to Nichols, her video camera was on as she was making the call, and the feed was transmitted to a server at ESPN’s Bristol, Connecticut headquarters.

Several ESPN employees had regular access to that server, and at least one of them recorded the video on a personal device to share with other employees within the network.

According to the article, several of ESPN’s Black employees said the conversation “confirmed their suspicions that outwardly supportive white people talk differently behind closed doors.”

During the call, after Nichols told Mendelsohn she was waiting for ESPN’s next move regarding the hosting job, Mendelsohn replied “I don’t know. I’m exhausted. Between Me Too and Black Lives Matter, I got nothing left,” eliciting laughter from Nichols.

The two later discussed the wider cultural climate within ESPN.

“Those same people — who are, like, generally white conservative male Trump voters — is part of the reason I’ve had a hard time at ESPN,” Nichols said. “I basically finally just outworked everyone for so long that they had to recognize it. I don’t want to then be a victim of them trying to play catch-up for the same damage that affected me in the first place.”

Reached for comment regarding the call, Nichols told the Times that she was “unloading to a friend about ESPN’s process, not about Maria.” 

“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 added.

Taylor has not addressed the issue publicly or responded to Nichols’ apologies over texts and voicemails, which Nichols says is “completely fair and a decision I respect.”

Nichols added that she herself was “shaken” that employees showed ”no remorse” about “passing around a spy video of a female co-worker alone in her hotel room,” but that she “would in no way suggest that the way the comments came to light should grant a free pass on them being hurtful to other people.”

ESPN has not disciplined Nichols for her comments. Producer Kayla Johnson, who is Black, is the only known person punished from this saga after she told the network’s HR department that she sent a recording of the video to Taylor. 

Johnson was allegedly given a two-week suspension without pay and was assigned “less-desirable” duties at work before recently leaving the company, per the article.

Have you subscribed to theGrio’s “Dear Culture” podcast? Download our newest episodes now!

TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku. Download today!