Rachel Nichols’ secretly recorded phone conversation from last July has been leaked, and it is creating major issues at ESPN.
In an explosive New York Times story, an audio clip from a video reveals Nichols expressing her displeasure that Maria Taylor was given NBA Finals hosting duties last year, and believes the color of her skin has a lot to do with it. Nichols is white and Taylor — whose future at the network is uncertain as she looks for a big raise, as The Post’s Andrew Marchand reported — is black.
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“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols said last July, according to video 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.”
“I just want them to go somewhere else — it’s in my contract, by the way; this job is in my contract in writing,” she added.
The conversation, which had been heard by those who worked at ESPN, was not made public before now. The Times reported that several ESPN employees who are black said the conversation further cemented their belief that white people at the network who are supportive publicly do not act the same way in private.
The comments came in a conversation with Adam Mendelsohn, an adviser to LeBron James and his agent Rich Paul. Mendelsohn warned Nichols that ESPN is a “snake pit,” and she should be careful.
“Those same people — who are, like, generally white conservative male Trump voters — is part of the reason I’ve had a hard time at ESPN,” Nichols said during the taped conversation. “I basically finally just outworked everyone for so long that they had to recognize it. I don’t want to then be a victim of them trying to play catch-up for the same damage that affected me in the first place, you know what I mean. So I’m trying to just be nice.”
ESPN declined to comment on the matter. Contacted by The Times, Nichols said she has reached out to Taylor, but has not gotten a response. Nichols said she was expressing herself to a friend about her frustration, not with Taylor, but ESPN.
“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,” she said.
One ESPN source told The Times ESPN’s decision to punish Nichols was an “active source of pain” and remains a talking point among co-workers. It hasn’t diminished Nichols’ job, either. She was a sideline reporter for the network’s top NBA games and remained the host of “The Jump.” So Taylor and Nichols didn’t have to interact, Nichols’ appearances on “NBA Countdown” were not recorded live. Other sideline reporters did record some of their appearances live.
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Before the playoffs, ESPN decided that all sideline reporters coming on “NBA Countdown” would be prohibited from live interviews, unless Taylor would have Nichols on live. It led to a staff blowup on May 22, with Adrian Wojnarowski calling Nichols a bad teammate, Taylor bringing up the recorded phone conversation and saying that the only employees ESPN punished were women of color. The restrictions were eventually lifted by the end of the day.
But now, with Taylor’s contract set to expire on or around July 20 and Nichols’ comments becoming public, ESPN is dealing with an in-house storm that seems to be getting worse.