Around this same time Nichols and Taylor were vying to host pregame and postgame shows during the network’s basketball coverage of the 2020 NBA Finals, a coveted staff position that Taylor was ultimately assigned to by the front office.
ESPN reporter Rachel Nichols stands on the court before a game between the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks at The Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Nichols was caught on camera while making racist remarks about her coworker Maria Taylor.
Her comments were recorded and automatically uploaded to an internal server at company headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, where numerous ESPN employees had access to the footage. Soon a cellphone copy of the video was being shared among the staff, sparking widespread outrage behind the scenes.
It wasn’t long before the leaked video reached the brass, who began efforts to tamp down the controversy but ultimately declined to discipline Nichols.
After months of internal rumblings and threats by some of the network’s biggest on-air personalities to boycott the 2021 playoffs, ESPN finally removed Nichols as the courtside reporter for the NBA Finals and replaced her with Malika Andrews.
Nichols, who is white, also apologized during a recent opening of her show “The Jump.”
“So the first thing they teach in journalism school is don’t be the story. And I don’t plan to break that rule today or distract from a fantastic Finals, but I also 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.”
It was unclear whether the internal dispute played any role in the negotiations for Taylor’s contract extension, although voices at the network said the internal damage from the past year had been substantial.
Weeks ago, Taylor reportedly turned down an offer that would have paid her nearly $5 million.
Taylor gave a statement Wednesday but made no mention of the controversy.
“So thankful to Jimmy and all of my great teammates and friends at the SEC Network, College GameDay, Women’s and Men’s college basketball, and the NBA Countdown family — the people who believed in me, encouraged me, pushed me, and lifted me up,” Taylor said in a statement. “Words are inadequate to express my boundless appreciation, and I hope to make them proud.”
Last night’s title-clinching Game 6 of the NBA Finals turned out to be Taylor’s final assignment for ESPN.
She took center stage for the network throughout the series as the Milwaukee Bucks went on to win its first championship in 50 years, beating the Phoenix Suns 4 games to 2.
“Maria’s remarkable success speaks directly to her abilities and work ethic,” Pitaro said in a statement. “There is no doubt we will miss Maria, but we remain determined to continue to build a deep and skilled talent roster that thoroughly reflects the athletes we cover and the fans we serve. While she chose to pursue a new opportunity, we are proud of the work we’ve done together.”