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Maria Taylor is on the move.
“Maria’s remarkable success speaks directly to her abilities and work ethic,” said ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro 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.”
“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 added. “Words are inadequate to express my boundless appreciation, and I hope to make them proud.”
Taylor’s departure comes after an intra-ESPN dispute involving the host spilled into public view in recent weeks.
The saga started with a July 4 New York Times story, which included audio from a phone call between ESPN’s other lead NBA host and on-air reporter Rachel Nichols, and Adam Mendelsohn, an adviser to Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.
The Times story hit just a few weeks before Taylor’s contract was set to expire on July 20, with subsequent stories detailing the negotiations between Taylor and the Disney-owned sports giant.
In the leaked audio, which was recorded amid the novel coronavirus pandemic last year, Nichols complained about Taylor being selected to host NBA Countdown. Nichols, who is white, suggested that Taylor, who is Black, may have gotten the job not because of her talent or experience but because the channel was looking to diversify its hosting ranks.
“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols said in the recording from July 2020. “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.”
Ultimately ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro weighed in, writing to staff that “the details of what took place last year are confidential, nuanced and complicated personnel matters. But understand this — we have a much better story than what you’ve seen this week.”
“I do want to be clear on one thing: Maria Taylor was selected as NBA Countdown host last year because she earned it,” he added. “Please know our commitment is that assignments and opportunities at ESPN are based on merit and any concerns, remarks, or inferences that suggest otherwise have been and will continue to be addressed.”
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