Sports | July 4, 2021 2:23 pm

Report: Rachel Nichols’s Take on Maria Taylor Prompts Internal Conflict at ESPN

A reckoning with a substantial reach

Rachel Nichols
Reporters Rachel Nichols and Adrian Wojnarowski speak before the start of the 2019 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center.
Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

For observers of the world of sports broadcasting, there’s been a lot to ponder regarding ESPN’s Maria Taylor, whose contract with the network is up later this month. One recent report noted that she had turned down a raise and was now being asked to accept less money than that on a new contract, leading some to speculate that she might move on to a different broadcaster.

Now, a blockbuster new report from The New York Times offers another perspective into the inner workings of ESPN — and it’s one that makes for a particularly jarring read. Kevin Draper reports that comments made by Taylor’s colleague Rachel Nichols in the summer of 2020. Nichols was talking with LeBron James’s advisor Adam Mendelsohn at the time; the video camera she was using to record commentary was still on, and it recorded their conversation. Draper described this as “effectively the remote pandemic version of a hot mic incident.”

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

The Times reports that a number of ESPN employees watched the video, and shared it around the company. For a number of reasons — including the fact that Nichols is white and Taylor is Black — this quickly led to discord within ESPN, which may have been compounded by ESPN suspending the Black video producer who sent Taylor the video clip in question.

Since then, there have been a number of effects on ESPN’s basketball coverage, including methods used so that Taylor and Nichols haven’t had to interact. The article also notes that Adrian Wojnarowski was critical of Nichols’s behavior during the NBA playoffs. The whole article is well worth a read — both for what it says about the internal climate at ESPN and for the larger questions it raises about race, power and media.