On Monday, ESPN host Rachel Nichols apologized for comments made in leaked audio about her colleague Maria Taylor.

The leaked audio was first reported by the New York Times on Sunday. The leaked comments were made by Nichols in July of 2020 after ESPN told her that Taylor, who is Black, would be hosting the NBA Finals instead of her. Nichols was talking to Adam Mendelsohn, an adviser to LeBron James, seeking advice, unaware that her video camera was on and was recording her.

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

“I just want them to go somewhere else — it’s in my contract, by the way; this job is in my contract in writing,” Nichols added.

The contents were recorded to a video server at ESPN headquarters, where any number of employees could have accessed it. One person recorded a copy of the call on a cellphone and the audio was soon spread throughout the company. The only person disciplined over the incident was a digital video producer who told ESPN’s human resources department she shared the video with Taylor. The producer, a Black woman, was suspended two weeks without pay and has since left the company.

Nichols explained to the Times she was “unloading to a friend about ESPN’s process, not about Maria.” She said she reached out to Taylor via texts and phone calls, but never received a response.

After the comments were leaked, Taylor declined to host NBA Countdown during the finals. She eventually changed her mind, but only on the condition that Nichols does not appear on the show. ESPN agreed but ignored her condition by airing prerecorded segments with Nichols that appeared to be happening live.

As a result, the segments of other sideline reporters then became a mix of live and prerecorded clips. ESPN later threatened to prerecord every reporters’ segment on NBA Countdown if Taylor continued to “refuse to interact” with Nichols. This led to a blowup on a preshow call between the show’s commentators: Taylor, Jalen RoseAdrian Wojnarowski, Jay Williams and ESPN executives.

Soon after, ESPN began allowing all sideline reporters to air their segments live on NBA Countdown.

Taylor’s contract expires in just a few weeks, right in the middle of the NBA Finals.

On Monday, Nichols made a public apology to Taylor for the comments she made. “So 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,” Nichols said to open The Jump on ESPN 2. “But I also don’t want to let this moment pass without saying how much I respect, how much I value our colleagues here 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.”

Former NBA players Richard Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins, Nichols’ co-stars on The Jump, expressed support for Nichols.

 

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