Back in July of 2021, an explosive report from The New York Times revealed major internal turmoil over at ESPN. The report exposed a leaked conversation involving sports broadcaster Rachel Nichols, who implied that fellow host Maria Taylor was only promoted because she is Black. The fallout from Rachel's comments has continued to pile up, and now, ESPN has pulled her from NBA coverage entirely and canceled her show, The Jump.
When The New York Times' report initially came out, sports editor Andrew Hammond tweeted, "That Rachel Nichols video is bad, and it also is the standard take on what some 'allies' think about diversity in sports media. So, I’m not shocked."
He also added, "What Rachel Nichols said in that video brings up sooooo many things other minorities and I have had to deal with, she just said the quiet part out loud, and on tape."
Author Frederick Joseph tweeted, "Rachel Nichols giving a perfect case study of how white feminism gladly undercuts Black women."
Still confused? Let's unpack.
Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor: What happened?
In July 2020, ESPN made that decision to have Maria Taylor host coverage of the NBA Finals instead of Rachel Nichols. So, Rachel went to LeBron James's advisor, Adam Mendelsohn, as well as LeBron's agent, Rich Paul, and she told them (via a conference call) that she felt like Maria was only promoted because ESPN was attempting to make up for their abysmal record on diversity. She implied that Maria was only getting the job because she's Black, not because she is qualified and talented.
She said, "I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols said in July 2020 via The New York 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.”
It's been confirmed that even after ESPN learned about this, Rachel wasn't — at first — reprimanded in any shape or form. In fact, the only person to get in trouble was a digital producer named Kayla Johnson, who is Black. She was the one who told HR she sent the video to Maria, and as a result, Kayla was suspended for two weeks without any pay and then was seemingly punished with "less desirable tasks at work."
Rachel responded to The NYT, saying she was frustrated and “unloading to a friend about ESPN’s process, not about Maria.” 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.”
She says that she reached out to Maria to apologize, but Maria hasn't responded to her calls or texts.
Rachel then went on to say that she was "hurt" that this conversation was recorded in the first place. “I was shaken that a fellow employee would do this, and that other employees, including some of those within the NBA project, had no remorse about passing around a spy video of a female co-worker alone in her hotel room," she said. She added, "I would in no way suggest that the way the comments came to light should grant a free pass on them being hurtful to other people."
ESPN has now canceled 'The Jump,' but Rachel says there's "more to come."
According to David Roberts (ESPN's senior vice president of production), the decision to cancel Rachel's show was completely mutual. "We mutually agreed that this approach regarding our NBA coverage was best for all concerned," he said. "Rachel is an excellent reporter, host and journalist, and we thank her for her many contributions to our NBA content."
Rachel kept her own references to the cancelation of her show brief. She shared on Twitter that "The Jump was never built to last forever," then assured her fans and followers that there was more to come. She hasn't yet shared what her future plans are.