The National Association of Black Journalists are demanding a meeting with top ESPN and Disney brass in the wake of Rachel Nichols’ comments regarding Maria Taylor in 2020, where Nichols, who is white, suggested Taylor was picked over her to cover last year’s NBA Finals because she is Black.
“The NABJ Board of Directors is disturbed to learn the details of this situation and what appeared to be a lack of accountability and a desire by ESPN to provide accommodations for a white employee who mocked diversity and a well-qualified co-worker while seemingly ignoring how Taylor and others who later heard the conversation may have been affected,” said NABJ president Dorothy Tucker. “The silence and apparent inaction by ESPN leaders over the last year is deafening and, as a result, NABJ is requesting a meeting with Bob Iger, executive chairman at The Walt Disney Company, which owns ESPN; Bob Chapek, CEO of The Walt Disney Company; and Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of ESPN.”
Following the uproar over Nichols comments, which were rehashed over the weekend in a New York Times story that examined the internal fallout at ESPN, Nichols was left off of NBA Finals coverage, for which she was previously served as the sideline reporter. On Monday during her show “The Jump,” Nichols apologized to Taylor and her colleagues.
“We believe this is best decision for all concerned in order to keep the focus on the NBA Finals. Rachel will continue to host ‘The Jump,’” ESPN said in a statement.
In a new statement on Wednesday to the NABJ, ESPN responded: “We’re proud to lead the sports media industry in making significant progress to develop and place diverse talent on-air and in key leadership positions,” a spokesperson said. “Diversity, Inclusion and Equity are top priorities at ESPN. We recognize more work needs to be done, and we will continue our commitment to creating a culture that reflects our values. Our partnership with NABJ is an integral part of that commitment.”
In July 2020, a tape leaked of a conversation between Nichols and LeBron James’ advisor Adam Mendelsohn. In the conversation — which was accidentally recorded and uploaded to ESPN’s servers because Nichols forgot to turn her video camera off — Nichols expressed frustration that Taylor had been chosen over her to host “NBA Countdown” during last year’s NBA Finals, suggesting that the network made the decision because it was “feeling pressure” on diversity.
After the video spread internally at the network and was later partially leaked by Deadspin, Taylor told ESPN execs that she had decided to not finish covering the NBA season. She reconsidered, however, after the network agreed to have Nichols’ sideline reporting segments be prerecorded and presented as if they were live so that she would not interact with Taylor on-air. NYT reported that Taylor believed ESPN broke its word when it aired live segments with Nichols even though they did not include interactions with Taylor.
This past May, as this year’s playoffs were about to get underway, ESPN NBA production management informed the “NBA Countdown” team that if Taylor still refused to interact with Nichols, then no other sideline reporters would appear live either. The decision prompted an internal backlash from the show’s on-air panel, including analysts and former NBA stars Jalen Rose and Jay Williams, and ESPN’s top insider Adrian Wojnarowski, whom reportedly called Nichols a “bad teammate.”