NABJ Expresses Concerns Over ESPN’s Handling of Leaked Rachel Nichols ‘Diversity’ Dig

Headshots of Maria Taylor and Rachel Nichols. Credit: ESPN

The president of the National Association of Black Journalists has expressed disappointment over ESPN’s handling of a racial firestorm involving sports anchors Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor.

Nichols disparaged her colleague in an audio clip posted Sunday by the New York Times, and said she was bothered that Taylor, who is Black, was named primary host of the network’s 2020 NBA Finals coverage.

The leaked audio — which Nichols is believed to have accidentally recorded last year while her camera was connected to a company server allowing her to report from the NBA bubble — suggested Taylor received the coveted NBA Countdown hosting job because of her race.

“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.”

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Nichols made the comments while speaking with Adam Mendelsohn, an adviser to Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and his agent Rich Paul. Nichols told the Times she was “unloading to a friend about ESPN’s process, not about Maria.”

The only person disciplined over the audio, was a Black digital video producer who told ESPN’s human resources department that she shared the clip with Taylor.

After the story broke, NABJ president Dorothy Tucker tweeted: “Reliable sources confirm published reports. I have concerns: The @espn Black employee was punished for revealing the incident but no action was taken against the White #ESPN talent for insulting the Black talent? There will be a follow up post holiday.”

The NABJ Sports Twitter account chimed in a few hours after Tucker’s tweet, writing: “Maria Taylor is one of the most talented journalists in sports. Period. Her talent has created those opportunities, not ESPN ‘feeling pressure’ about its past record on diversity. True ‘allies’ for diversity know it’s not always going to be comfortable or convenient for them.”

According to the Times, Black employees at ESPN told the newspaper Nichols’ comments “confirmed their suspicions that outwardly supportive white people talk differently behind closed doors.”

Taylor has been working at ESPN since 2014 when she joined the network as a college analyst and reporter. She covered both college football and basketball before landing an NBA Countdown hosting job.

Nichols returned to ESPN in 2016 after previously working for the sports network from 2004 to 2013, then going to CNN.

ESPN has not made any public comments via a company press release regarding the incident.