Nichols, on a phone call she didn’t know was being recorded, suggested that if ESPN wanted to improve its record on diversity, the network shouldn’t do it by giving Taylor Nichols’ contractually guaranteed job as host of the NBA Finals.
Rachel Nichols is back on the air, but the fallout at ESPN is just beginning
In her first appearance on Showtime on Friday, Nichols joined the video podcast, “All the Smoke,” with former NBA players Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes, and publicly offered for the first time her version of the events that led to her ESPN departure. She suggested that the recording of her had been strategically leaked and said much of the frustration she had meant to express in the leaked call stemmed from the difficulties of being a woman in the sports media business.
“I feel sorry that any of this touched Maria Taylor,” Nichols said. “She’s a fellow woman in the business. It’s not her fault what was going on.”
Nichols, a former reporter for The Washington Post, added that human resources investigated the tape and found she didn’t need to be disciplined. “I thought we had put things behind us, and unfortunately there were still some people who had bad feelings and held on to this tape for a year,” she said. “Just kept it in their pocket. And when there was a point they wanted some leverage with their own situations they fed it to the press.”
ESPN declined to comment.
The saga began, Nichols explained, in 2019, when she was given a new contract that guaranteed her hosting duties for the NBA Finals. A year later, as racial protests swept the country, ESPN asked her to give up what she called a “dream job” to Taylor.
Nichols believed that ESPN was asking a woman to fix a diversity problem and would not have asked its main college football host, a man, to step aside for Taylor in the same way. “Do you think ESPN would ever say to Rece Davis, ‘Hey, we want to give Maria this opportunity; you go be the sideline reporter?’ Nichols said on the podcast. “They don’t say that to men.”
The recording was made from Nichols’s hotel room in Orlando during the NBA bubble in 2020. She said the camera was inadvertently running in her hotel room for hours and that someone at ESPN had used a cellphone to record the video of her and then circulate it around ESPN.
Nichols said she tried to call, text and set up a meeting with Taylor to apologize but that Taylor was not interested. After the tape was published last year, Nichols was removed from NBA Finals coverage, and later in the summer she was removed from the network’s airwaves.
Taylor also left ESPN and now works for NBC.