ESPN reporter Rachel Nichols is facing backlash after a recording was leaked of her complaining that the network was giving fellow reporter Maria Taylor the hosting duties for NBA Countdown ahead of the 2020 postseason for what she perceived as “pressure” ESPN was facing on diversity.
The New York Times obtained the recording, which showed Nichols speaking with Adam Mendelsohn, an adviser for LeBron James, in her hotel room in the Orlando bubble last summer. Her video camera from shooting “The Jump” was unknowingly still on and recording her to a server at ESPN’s headquarters.
At least one person with access to the server recorded the video on his cellphone and shared it with others.
“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols said in the July 2020 recording. “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 added: “I just want them to go somewhere else — it’s in my contract, by the way; this job is in my contract in writing.”
When Nichols told Mendelsohn, who is white, that she would plan to wait for ESPN’s next move, Mendelsohn said, “I don’t know. I’m exhausted. Between Me Too and Black Lives Matter, I got nothing left.”
Nichols responded with a laugh.
Nichols, who was “shaken” that someone recorded her in her hotel room unknowingly, defended herself to the Times, saying 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.”
Mendelsohn also released a statement in which he said Taylor deserved the position and Nichols must respect it, but Nichols should also get paid what she deserves.
The video made its way around ESPN, including executives, which did not discipline Nichols for her comments, angering other employees around the network, particularly Taylor.
Nichols told the Times she has attempted to apologize to Taylor through text messages and phone calls but Taylor as not responded.
According to the Times, Taylor and Nichols have avoided interacting with one another over the last year and Nichols’ segments on “NBA Countdown” were prerecorded, often in a way to appear as if they were live.
ESPN executives delivered a production edict to “NBA Countdown” prior to the start of the playoffs in May that no reporters would be allowed on the show live if Taylor continued to avoid interacting with Nichols.
This led to stars of the show discussing whether or not they would refuse to appear on it.
The New York Times details a preshow call that involved ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro trying to smooth things over with the talent, which included Taylor, Jalen Rose, Adrian Wojnarowski and Jay Williams.
Taylor insisted she able to conduct live interviews with sideline reporters and brought up the recorded phone call of Nichols and Mendelsohn, adding that the only person to be punished was digital video producer Kayla Johnson, who sent the video to Taylor. Johnson, who is Black, was suspended for two weeks without pay.
Per the Times, Wojnarowski called Nichols a bad teammate while Rose said ESPN had asked a lot from Black employees over the past year and that he and others would no longer extend their credibility to the network.
Pitaro reportedly spoke with Taylor and Wojnarowski and Wojnarowski alone before finally rescinding the restrictions.
ESPN spokesperson Josh Krulewitz said in a statement to the Times:
"A diverse group of executives thoroughly and fairly considered all the facts related to the incident and then addressed the situation appropriately. We’re proud of the coverage we continue to produce, and our focus will remain on Maria, Rachel and the rest of the talented team collectively serving NBA fans."