Rachel Nichols was officially benched from the sidelines of the NBA Finals, according to ESPN, after controversy surrounding her private conversation continues to grow. Now fans are asking if ESPN was wrong or right to yank the star reporter after a leaked video.
The leaked video revealed a private conversation between Rachel Nichols and her colleague, in which she claimed Taylor only became the host of NBA Countdown because of her skin color. Nichols, who is white, accused ESPN of replacing her with Taylor, who is black, to improve its well-known lack of diversity.
ESPN has sat on the issue for quite some time, even after the video went viral. A July 4 New York Times report finally pressured the network to take action against Rachel Nichols, when it delved deep into Nichols’ controversial remarks, which were made in private.
The company announced Tuesday that Malika Andrews will replace Nichols during NBA Finals commentary. Andrews “will join the team to provide sideline reports throughout the series,” according to ESPN.
Malika Andrews only recently made her NBA debut during the 2019-20 Season at the ESPN World of Sports Complex in Florida, where she was a sideline reporter throughout the NBA Playoffs. She’ll be “calling the action courtside from Phoenix and Milwaukee.”
Rachel Nichols is left hosting The Jump, ESPN’s weekday NBA show, which she has hosted since 2016. In a statement, ESPN announced that “we believe this is the best decision for all concerned in order to keep the focus on the NBA Finals.”
Nichols made the controversial statements last year when she was expressing frustrations about ESPN’s diversity and inclusion antics. Nichols was unaware that her July conversation was being recorded. At the time she expressed certain feelings that many deem offensive and inappropriate.
Rachel Nichols was angry about ESPN’s treatment of Maria Taylor, who took Nichols’ spot as host of the NBA Finals, which Nichols believes was because ESPN was feeling pressure to be more diverse. “I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols said in a Disney hotel room.
“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,” she continued. “Just find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing away.”
Nichols admitted that “I just want them to go somewhere else — it’s in my contract, by the way; this job is in my contract in writing.” ESPN relinquished her spot hosting the NBA Countdown to Maria Taylor, and the video containing Nichols’ offensive rant was released to the world.
In that video, Nichols said: “I don’t know. I’m exhausted. Between Me Too and Black Lives Matter, I got nothing left.” Nichols can be heard laughing.
Rachel Nichols has since apologized for her actions, once in The New York Times exposé and again during a scheduled ESPN program. “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 on air.
She continued, saying that “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.”
The New York Times published another Nichols apology, where she said that “I was shaken that a fellow employee would do this, and that other employees, including some of those within the N.B.A. project, had no remorse about passing around a spy video of a female co-worker alone in her hotel room.” She continued, saying “I would in no way suggest that the way the comments came to light should grant a free pass on them being hurtful to other people.”
The controversy is shedding light on ESPN’s workplace, and the issue of forced diversity throughout the corporate world. In the conversation in question, Nichols was speaking with Adam Mendelsohn, an advisor to LeBron James, and his agent, Rich Paul. In the video, Mendelsohn can be heard strategizing with Nichols about a potential response to ESPN after she was replaced by Taylor.
“Be careful because that place is a snake pit,” Mendelsohn said. He then suggested bringing a case to Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN’s president, detailing the shortcomings of ESPN’s diversity, focusing on the fact that two women are competing over the same job.
In the video, the pair then discuss the culture at ESPN, in which Nichols claims that “white conservative male Trump voters — are part of the reason I’ve had a hard time at ESPN. 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.”
Nichols’ comments present a larger issue going on in the corporate world regarding how large companies deal with diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The other issue is Nichols’ words were made in private. This leaves open the question whether it would be legal to suspend or fire her for a private conversation.
ESPN’s decision to replace Nichols with Malika Andrews during the NBA Finals is one step toward addressing the issue, but there is a larger problem at play that needs attention before a conclusion can be reached.