ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, the network’s star basketball reporter embroiled in a hot mic scandal, won’t be covering the NBA finals from the sidelines, the network said Tuesday.
“We believe this is best decision for all concerned in order to keep the focus on the NBA Finals,” ESPN said in a statement, adding that Nichols will remain as host of “The Jump,” the network’s daily basketball show. The finals begin later on Tuesday between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The decision follows a damning report in The New York Times revealing turmoil at ESPN over comments that Nichols, who is white, made last year in an accidental recording. In the footage obtained by the Times, Nichols complained about ESPN selecting Maria Taylor, another host who is Black, to host the July 2020 NBA Finals pre- and post-game shows, making her the face of the network during that period.
Nichols had sought the job, too, and accidentally recorded herself suggesting to representatives for NBA star LeBron James that Taylor was selected for the job because of her race.
“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols said, according to the recording obtained by the Times. “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.”
Nichols, who had a camera to film her segments from a hotel room in compliance with COVID-19 safety measures, had unwittingly recorded herself, and the footage went directly to ESPN headquarters in Connecticut. It was passed around by employees who had access to the servers, sparking an internal dialogue about the way white ESPN employees view their Black colleagues.
The incident transpired shortly after police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, which set off a nationwide reckoning on issues of racism ― including those in sports, media and the workplace.
Nichols apologized for her comments during Monday’s episode of “The Jump,” saying “how deeply, deeply sorry I am for disappointing those I hurt, particularly Maria Taylor, and how grateful I am to be a part of this team.”
Taylor, meanwhile, has increasingly criticized the network for its handling of race issues, and she is reportedly in a standoff with the network over renewing her contract, which expires later this month and could cause a disruption in ESPN’s NBA Finals coverage.