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UPDATE, 8:45: ESPN anchor Maria Taylor has finally spoken out in the wake of the controversy surrounding remarks made about her by fellow employee Rachel Nichols.
Taylor posted to Twitter a message that didn’t address Nichols, but alluded to “dark times” She kept her message upbeat and positive and accompanied it with happy photos from her job.
“During the dark times I always remember that I am in this position to open doors and light the path that others walk down. I’ve taken some punches but that just means I’m still in the fight. Remember to lift as you climb and always KEEP RISING.”
UPDATED, 10:30 a.m: After three days of turmoil, ESPN announced Tuesday that Maria Taylor will be hosting the network’s pregame and halftime shows for the NBA Finals. Those duties have been at the center of a controversy involving comments made by Rachel Nichols, host of ESPN’s The Jump, about Taylor potentially assuming that role.
ESPN also said that Nichols no longer will be the network’s sideline reporter for the Finals, a position she held last year and during big games this season. That role will go to the network’s NBA reporter, Malika Andrews.
Nichols, who is white, was heard on a video expressing exasperation over Taylor, who is Black, being given NBA Finals hosting duties last year. The private comments were captured by a live internal feed and became the basis for a New York Times story this weekend.
The Jump host apologized Monday, and multiple former players-turned-analysts spoke up on her behalf, but ESPN went with Taylor for the second straight year as the face of its Finals programming. Taylor will host alongside analysts Jalen Rose and Jay Williams and ace NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski.
The network’s release makes brief mention of Nichols, saying she will be “on site throughout NBA Finals for weekday shows” of The Jump.
Taylor’s ascension might put pressure on the network in another way, however. If the series goes to a seventh game, the Times reports, Taylor’s contract with ESPN “expires near the end of the finals, and to date the two sides are not close on a renewal.”
The NBA Finals start tonight with the Milwaukee Bucks facing the Phoenix Suns at 9 p.m. ET.
PREVIOUSLY, July 5: One day after confidential comments made by ESPN host Rachel Nichols about network colleague Maria Taylor were the focus of a New York Times report, causing an uproar, Nichols issued an apology at the top of her popular NBA show, The Jump, on Monday. (Nichols told the Times that she reached out to Taylor via call and text, but did not receive a response.)
In place of her usually NBA-centric monologue on Monday, Nichols said:
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. 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 then threw to former players Kendrick Perkins and Richard Jefferson, who are regular guests on the show.
Perkins thanked Nichols for “taking responsibility for your actions,” before giving her an endorsement of sorts with, “I know your heart, great person, great individual.” The former NBA champ then also praised Taylor before ending with, “My only hope is that we have a commitment overall to support each other through this process and continue to support each other through our journey.”
Jefferson, also a former NBA champion, said he fully supported Taylor and that, even after knowing Nichols for 20 years. “Rachel and our entire group here have had some very difficult conversations over this time period, and those conversations don’t end here. We will continue to have uncomfortable conversations. No one is excused,” continued Jefferson. This doesn’t just go away. But we have to learn and understand and become better for each other, and really through our actions more than anything, and that is our responsibility.”
Earlier in the day, another sometimes guest on The Jump, former NBA player Stephen Jackson, posted a series of videos to Instagram defending Nichols.
“We all ramble,” said Jackson in the video. “We say things when we are frustrated. And you know, Rachel [Nichols] did deserve that job. It’s just plain and simple. I talked to Rachel and I know a lot of things she was saying out of frustration because ESPN put her in a bad position. And they even put Maria [Taylor] in a position trying to give her a sympathy job.”
A post shared by Stephen Jackson Sr. (@_stak5_)
Social media reaction to Jackson’s post sent his name trending on Twitter shortly thereafter.
PREVIOUSLY on July 4: Disparaging comments made by ESPN host Rachel Nichols and leaked from a recorded phone conversation are reportedly causing an uproar at the sports network.
The New York Times is reporting details of a leaked Nichols conversation with Adam Mendelsohn, an adviser to LeBron James and his agent Rich Paul. In the talk, Mendelsohn warned Nichols that ESPN is a “snake pit,” and she should be careful.
In the New York Times story, an audio clip taken from a video has Nichols, who is white, exasperated over Maria Taylor, who is Black, being given NBA Finals hosting duties last year. Nichols is the host of the daily NBA show The Jump, while Taylor is an analyst and host in multiple sports.
“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,” she said.
The Times reported that several ESPN employees who are Black believe the conversation indicates that things said in private reflect a non-supportive attitude toward them that’s never publicly stated.
“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 on tape. “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 to the Times, and Taylor has not responded.
Nichols said in the story 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.
Taylor is currently negotiating for a new contract, and reportedly wants to be among the highest-paid personalities at the network. Her current deal expires July 20.
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