ESPN host Rachel Nichols’ show, The Jump, was cancelled and she was subsequently removed from all NBA programming, ending her career at the sports’ network after being recorded in a phone call last year saying a black colleague only got a gig because of her race.
Nichols, who hosted The Jump for five years, was previously removed from sideline reporting following a leaked video where she suggested reporter Maria Taylor was given a particular studio assignment to promote diversity.
‘We mutually agreed that this approach regarding our NBA coverage was best for all concerned,’ ESPN senior vice president David Roberts told Sports Business Journal. ‘Rachel is an excellent reporter, host and journalist, and we thank her for her many contributions to our NBA content.’
Nichols tweeted a goodbye to fans, but did not address the incident, only saying ‘The Jump was never built to last forever, but it sure was fun.’
A leaked recording revealed that Rachel Nichols, left, suggested that ESPN college Maria Taylor only got an assignment because of her race. Taylor has since moved on to NBC
While Nichols still has a year left on her contract, it is unlikely that she will appear in any show on the network, SBJ reported.
Maria Taylor left ESPN at the end of July to work for NBC.
The conversation at the center of the incident, first revealed by the New York Times, was recorded by an unknown party during the 2020 NBA season restart.
It took place at the league’s COVID ‘bubble’ hotel in Florida when Nichols was apparently unaware a camera in her hotel room was still attached to a live microphone following a satellite broadcast.
Nichols confided in Adam Mendelsohn, a public relations and communications strategist
Nichols was on the phone to LeBron James’ long-time advisor Adam Mendelsohn when she expressed annoyance at being passed over for hosting the NBA finals. She was in a hotel room, inside the NBA ‘bubble’, but appeared to have mistakenly left her camera on – and the footage was broadcast back to ESPN’s headquarters.
Nichols called Medelsohn on July 13, 2020 to ask for an interview with James and another Lakers player, Anthony Davis, who is another client of James’ agent, Rich Paul. Mendelsohn also is an advisor to Paul.
During the call, Nichols asked Mendelsohn for advice about how to handle the situation at ESPN, and her being denied the assignment that went to Taylor.
‘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.’
Rachel Nichols, ESPN’s NBA sideline reporter, was heard on a hot mic last year complaining that she was passed over for the role of studio host during the NBA playoffs in favor of a black woman, Maria Taylor. Nichols is seen above in Los Angeles on June 24
ESPN executives last year picked Taylor (seen above in August 2019) to host its NBA Countdown pre- and post-game studio show for the duration of the playoffs and the finals
She also noted that the assignment to host NBA finals coverage ‘is in my contract in writing,’ the newspaper reported.
After Nichols said she planned to await ESPN’s next move, Mendelsohn paused, and then said: ‘I don’t know. I’m exhausted. Between Me Too and Black Lives Matter, I got nothing left.’
Both fans and critics of Nichols were quick to post on Twitter. Brandon Vaughn wrote, ‘If Nichols was smart, she would sincerely apologize for her actions instead of trying to put a smile on a sad chapter.’
David Ames wrote, ‘What a shame… Guess nobody is allowed to make a mistake and then apologize anymore.’
Mendelsohn on Monday told CNBC: ‘I made a stupid, careless comment rooted in privilege and I am sincerely sorry.
ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro
‘I shouldn’t have said it or even thought it.
When a recording of the call leaked and started to circulate among ESPN employees, it prompted a crisis with several of the network’s top talent contemplating a refusal to appear on the air in protest.
It also caused anger among black employees at the network who felt that the secretly recorded conversation was a more accurate reflection of white attitudes about diversity.
The anger boiled over when it became apparent that ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro would not discipline Nichols despite the demands from employees that he do so.
The only individual known to be punished was Kayla Johnson, a black digital video producer who reportedly told human resources that she sent the video to Taylor.
Johnson was suspended for two weeks without pay and was later given less desirable tasks at work. She recently left ESPN along with other black employees who felt mistreated by the network.
Taylor and other black employees at ESPN were outraged when the network disciplined a black employee, Kayla Johnson, a digital video producer who reportedly told human resources that she sent the video of Nichols’ phone call with Mendelsohn to Taylor. Johnson was suspended without pay for two weeks. A short time later, she left the network
Nichols told the Times that she has tried to contact Taylor through phone calls and text messages to offer an apology.
‘Maria has chosen not to respond to these offers, which is completely fair and a decision I respect,’ Nichols said.
She was angry that employees at her company leaked and circulated a recording of a private telephone conversation.
‘I was shaken that a fellow employee would do this, and that other employees, including some of those within the NBA project, had no remorse about passing around a spy video of a female co-worker alone in her hotel room,’ Nichols said.
She then added: ‘I would in no way suggest that the way the comments came to light should grant a free pass on them being hurtful to other people.’
After the video leaked, Taylor told Pitaro that she would not finish out the NBA season.
‘I will not call myself a victim, but I certainly have felt victimized and I do not feel as though my complaints have been taken seriously,’ Taylor wrote in an email to Pitaro and other ESPN executives two weeks after the incident.