ESPN’s Rachel Nichols apologizes to Maria Taylor for ‘diversity’ comments

Nichols' comments came after she began trending on social media on Sunday when her remarks and subsequent fallout was reported

ESPN host Rachel Nichols gave a public on-air apology to colleague Maria Taylor on Monday after assertions she made in 2020 were reported publicly, in which she suggested Taylor was given a prominent position commentating on the NBA Finals because she is Black. 

Taylor was not present when the words of regret were offered. 

On Monday, Nichols started her show, The Jump, speaking to the camera, saying, “The first thing they teach you in journalism school is don’t be the story, and I don’t plan to break that rule today or distract from a fantastic Finals.” 

“But I also don’t want to let this moment pass without saying how much I respect, how much I value our colleagues at ESPN, how deeply, deeply sorry I am for disappointing those I hurt, particularly Maria Taylor, and how grateful I am to be part of this outstanding team.”

ESPN’s Rachel Nichols (left) apologized to colleague Maria Taylor (right) on-air after assertions she made last year were made public in which she suggested Taylor was given a position commentating during the 2020 NBA Finals because she’s Black. (Photos by David Becker/Getty Images and Steve Jennings/Getty Images for ESPN)

The comments came after Nichols became a trending topic on social media when the remarks and subsequent fallout was reported by The New York Times on Sunday.

Nichols was speaking on the phone to Adam Mendelsohn in July 2020, expressing frustration that Taylor had been assigned to host the 2020 NBA Finals instead of her. Unaware that her camera was on and recording, Nichols and Mendelsohn, who is an advisor to LeBron James, spoke for nearly 20 minutes. 

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

In the recording, Mendelsohn says, in part, “I don’t know. I’m exhausted. Between Me Too and Black Lives Matter, I got nothing left.” Nichols then laughed.

Mendelsohn is a political and communications strategist and, with James, is a co-founder of More Than a Vote, James’ voting rights group. 

The video was sent to an internal server at ESPN, where it was viewed by several people and circulated among African American staff members. Multiple Black employees of the giant sports network told reporters the video is evidence that outwardly supportive white people speak differently about Black colleagues and issues behind closed doors.

In an update first announced by Front Office Sports early Tuesday, ABC will be replacing Nichols with Malika Andrews as sideline reporter during the NBA Finals.

“We believe this is best decision for all concerned in order to keep the focus on the NBA Finals,” officials announced. “Rachel will continue to host The Jump.”

Former NBA player Stephen Jackson defended Nichols in a rant on Instagram Monday. Jackson, who has appeared several times on The Jump, blamed the network for making Taylor “a sympathy hire.”

“We all ramble,” Jackson said. “We say things when we are frustrated. And you know, Rachel [Nichols] did deserve that job. It’s just plain and simple. I talked to Rachel, and I know a lot of things she was saying out of frustration because ESPN put her in a bad position.”

“And they even put Maria [Taylor] in a position trying to give her a sympathy job,” he continued. “They were trying to make themselves look good because all the Black Lives Matter and George Floyd stuff was going on. So ESPN tried to make themselves look good by taking the job from Rachel that she had already had, that they already told her she had, that she deserved, and give it to Maria just to make themselves look good.”

Jackson was a childhood friend of Floyd’s.

“It wasn’t a genuine job they wanted to give Maria. ESPN is behind all of this,” he said. “It’s all their fault. I can’t blame Rachel; I love Rachel, and I’m going to stand behind her. I spoke to her.”

Jackson added: “And I’m going to stand behind Maria, too.”

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