Racial drama brewing at ESPN between Rachel Nichols, Maria Taylor: report
The New York Times tells of tension between the two female NBA hosts dating to the Finals in the bubble last season.
A leaked recording of a phone conversation from last year has created a difficult situation at ESPN, pitting two of the network’s most visible female broadcasters against each other, according to a report Sunday in the New York Times.
The dispute goes back to the broadcast of the NBA Finals last year, when ESPN executives selected Maria Taylor over Rachel Nichols to be the primary host for the network’s coverage.
An unhappy Nichols discussed her frustration about not being chosen in a phone call with Adam Mendelsohn, the longtime adviser of Lakers star LeBron James, expressing her opinion that Taylor got the assignment because the network was feeling pressure to improve its record on racial issues.
‘‘I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world,’’ Nichols said in an audio excerpt published 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.’’
The Times said the call was recorded by a camera in Nichols’ hotel room that enabled her to appear on-camera from the NBA bubble. The content was recorded to a video server at ESPN headquarters, where any number of people could have had access to it.
At least one person recorded a copy of the call on a cellphone, the Times reported, and the contents soon spread around ESPN.
The only person disciplined over the incident, the Times said, was a digital video producer who told ESPN’s human-resources department she shared the video with Taylor. The producer, a Black woman, was suspended for two weeks without pay and since has left the company.
Nichols explained to the Times she was ‘‘unloading to a friend about ESPN’s process, not about Maria.’’ She said she reached out to Taylor via texts and phone calls but never received a response.
The tension between the two remained throughout the current NBA season, as Taylor has continued to host the network’s ‘‘NBA Countdown’’ pregame show. All of Nichols’ segments are prerecorded, so they aren’t forced to interact.
The Times also reported there was a heated discussion among ESPN executives and broadcast personnel on a conference call before the playoffs began in late May. Execs said that if Taylor continued her objection to having Nichols on live, then no reporters would be allowed to be on live. Ultimately, the network reversed course.
Taylor’s contract with the network is set to expire in less than three weeks, and there have been ‘‘few substantive steps’’ to reach a new one, according to the Times.
ESPN will air the NBA Finals between the Suns and Bucks on ABC starting Tuesday.