Rachel Nichols says she has apologized to fellow ESPN reporter Maria Taylor for comments that seemed to suggest she thought Taylor was receiving opportunities within the company because ESPN was attempting to make up for its "crappy longtime record on diversity."
Nichols, who is white, made the comments in July 2020 during a private phone conversation after she learned ESPN wanted her to serve as a sideline reporter during the NBA Finals. The prestigious role of hosting the network's Finals coverage went to Taylor, who is Black. The call was recorded without Nichols' knowledge, then duplicated by an ESPN employee and distributed to other employees.
The recording has been the subject of much conflict within ESPN during the past year, according to the New York Times, which reported on the situation and published recorded excerpts from the conversation Sunday.
The network announced Tuesday that Malika Andrews, not Nichols, will serve as the sideline reporter for this year's NBA Finals, which begin tonight in Phoenix.
“We believe this is the best decision for all concerned in order to keep the focus on the NBA Finals,” ESPN said in a statement.
Taylor will host the network's pregame and halftime shows again this year. Nichols will continue as host of ESPN's weekday NBA show "The Jump," which will shoot live from the Finals.
Nichols told reporter Kevin Draper, who wrote the New York Times article, that she was “unloading to a friend about ESPN’s process, not about Maria” in the video from last year.
But, she added, “my own intentions in that conversation, and the opinion of those in charge at ESPN, are not the sum of what matters here — if Maria felt the conversation was upsetting, then it was, and I was the cause of that for her.”
Nichols said she attempted to apologize to Taylor through texts and phone calls.
“Maria has chosen not to respond to these offers, which is completely fair and a decision I respect,” Nichols said.
Nichols opened Monday's episode of "The Jump" by saying she had no intention of "being the story," but she wanted to issue another apology.
"I ... 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," Nichols said.
Draper wrote in his article that "multiple Black ESPN employees said they told one another after hearing the conversation that it confirmed their suspicions that outwardly supportive white people talk differently behind closed doors."
Around that time, Draper wrote, Taylor had also been subject to criticism by at least one ESPN employee for speaking out against George Floyd's murder. “Simply being a front facing black woman at this company has taken its toll physically and mentally,” she wrote in an email to ESPN executives obtained by the New York Times.
She initially told her bosses she would not work the rest of the NBA season but then decided to host "NBA Countdown" when ESPN agreed that Nichols would not appear on the show. According to multiple people who spoke to Draper about Taylor, she feels ESPN violated that agreement by allowing Nichols to appear on the show briefly without any interaction with Taylor.
Taylor, whose contract with ESPN is set to expire later this month, declined to comment for the New York Times article.
Nichols' recorded phone conversation was with Adam Mendelsohn, an adviser for Lakers superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and took place while she was quarantined in her hotel room near Orlando, Fla., before the restart of the 2020 NBA season. She had a video camera in her room to record her ESPN appearances during that period; the camera was somehow left recording during the conversation, which was automatically sent to a server at ESPN's headquarters.
“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball. 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," Nichols said to Mendelsohn.
"Just, you know, find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing away.”
Mendelsohn said in a statement to the New York Times: “Maria deserved and earned the position, and Rachel must respect it. Maria deserved it because of her work, and ESPN recognized that like many people and companies in America, they must intentionally change. Just because Maria got the job does not mean Rachel shouldn’t get paid what she deserves. Rachel and Maria should not be forced into a zero-sum game by ESPN, and Rachel needed to call them out.”
The only person known to have been disciplined by ESPN in relation to the incident is a digital video editor, who was suspended two weeks after admitting she had shown the video of Nichols' comments to Taylor. That person, who is Black, has since left the company.
“A diverse group of executives thoroughly and fairly considered all the facts related to the incident and then addressed the situation appropriately," ESPN spokesperson Josh Krulewitz told the New York Times. "We’re proud of the coverage we continue to produce, and our focus will remain on Maria, Rachel and the rest of the talented team collectively serving NBA fans.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.