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“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,” Nichols said on the ESPN 2 program. “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’ apology was spurred on by a New York Times story, which was published on July 4. The story included audio from a phone call Nichols had made with Adam Mendelsohn, an adviser to Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James and James’ agent, Rich Paul (Mendelsohn also found himself in hot water over comments he made on the tape, spurring an apology).
In the leaked audio, which was recorded amid the novel coronavirus pandemic last year, Nichols complained about Maria Taylor being selected to host NBA Countdown, the channel’s key pre- and post-game program. 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.”
The audio, which has made the rounds across ESPN, has taken on a more urgent meaning because Taylor’s contract with ESPN is set to expire later this month, and could end in the middle of the NBA Finals, depending on how long the series goes. It is not clear whether she will re-sign with the channel or whether the two sides will let her deal lapse.
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