The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) demanded a meeting with Disney and ESPN amid the explosive drama between personalities Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor.
The NABJ accused ESPN of trying to sweep Nichols’ comments – heard in a leaked video recording to The New York Times – “under the rug” and feared the ordeal could have “alienated” Taylor. Nichols is White and Taylor is Black.
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“The NABJ Board of Directors is disturbed to learn the details of this situation and what appeared to be a lack of accountability and a desire by ESPN to provide accommodations for a white employee who mocked diversity and a well-qualified co-worker while seemingly ignoring how Taylor and others who later heard the conversation may have been affected,” NABJ President Dorothy Tucker said in a press release.
“The silence and apparent inaction by ESPN leaders over the last year is deafening and, as a result, NABJ is requesting a meeting with Bob Iger, executive chairman at The Walt Disney Company, which owns ESPN; Bob Chapek, CEO of The Walt Disney Company; and Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of ESPN.”
The NABJ said it received a statement from ESPN, which said the company was focused on making diversity and inclusion “top priorities.”
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“We’re proud to lead the sports media industry in making significant progress to develop and place diverse talent on-air and in key leadership positions,” an ESPN spokesperson said. “Diversity, Inclusion and Equity are top priorities at ESPN. We recognize more work needs to be done, and we will continue our commitment to creating a culture that reflects our values. Our partnership with NABJ is an integral part of that commitment.”
The NABJ said the statement failed to address Nichols’ “behavior” and the fallout.
Nichols’ daily afternoon NBA program, “The Jump,” was not seen on the network on Tuesday as the criticism of her and the company grew louder. Later Tuesday, ESPN replaced Nichols on the sideline of the NBA Finals – seen on ABC – with Malika Andrews, who is Black. Nichols had been the sideline reporter in the Orlando bubble for last season’s NBA Finals.
“The Jump” and Nichols returned to the ESPN daytime schedule after a one-day hiatus on Wednesday.
The New York Times clip showed Nichols complaining about Taylor getting the gig. She was talking to LeBron James’ adviser Adam Mendelsohn and was unaware she was being recorded.
“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols said. “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.
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Nichols apologized on ESPN’s “The Jump” on Monday and was defended by co-hosts Kendrick Perkins and Richard Jefferson in the process.
“So, the first thing they teach you 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,” Nichols said.
“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.”
Nichols initially joined ESPN in 2004 and was a regular on the network’s flagship show “SportsCenter” as well as the NFL and NBA shows. She left ESPN for CNN in 2013 and was seen doing sideline reporting for TNT’s NBA broadcasts from 2013 to 2016. She re-joined ESPN in 2016. Her husband’s stepmother is Diane Sawyer.
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Taylor had primarily been seen on ESPN’s coverage of college football since joining the company in 2013. She started hosting “NBA Countdown” in 2019.