White ESPN reporter caught on “hot mic” accusing reporter of getting assignment because she is “Black”
Forget the drama on the basketball courts, the real drama is occurring behind the scenes at ESPN. The players, the public, and lovers of basketball are learning that a “hot mic” moment caught Rachel Nichols, ESPN’s NBA sideline reporter, complaining that she was passed over for the role of studio host during the NBA 2020 playoffs in favor of a black woman, Maria Taylor.
Nichols, a veteran sideline reporter who works the network’s NBA games, and also hosts an NBA daily news show called The Jump, called Adam Mendelsohn, a public relations and communications strategist from a hotel room on the campus of Walt Disney World. She is heard complaining about her Black colleague Taylor getting assignments she believes were hers. Nichols was working at Disney during the resumption of the NBA season that was halted due to the pandemic.
Once the recording came to light, Black employees at the network were seeing red. They were furious at ESPN executives because they felt that the secretly recorded conversation was a more accurate reflection of white attitudes about diversity at ESPN. They were outraged that Nichols, a white reporter, appeared to suggest that Taylor was picked to host the channel’s NBA playoffs coverage simply because she was black and not because she was the most qualified for the job. Their anger boiled over when it became apparent that ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro would not discipline Nichols despite the demands from employees that he do so.
In comparing resumes, some point to Taylor having far more experience and a greater athletic pedigree than her colleague Nichols. Taylor played college basketball and volleyball at the University of Georgia. She played on the US Volleyball Junior National A2 team and helped them win a bronze medal during the Open Division of the US Volleyball Championships. She would join ESPN in 2012 after working with Georgia for several years as a reporter and host for IMG Georgia.
The only individual known to be punished in this incident was Kayla Johnson, a black digital video producer who reportedly told human resources that she sent the video to Taylor. Johnson was immediately suspended for two weeks without pay and was later given less desirable tasks upon her return to work.
Taylor, along with other black employees at ESPN were outraged when the network disciplined Johnson. Johnson has since left ESPN, along with other black employees who felt mistreated by the network and misled by their claims of
supporting diversity and inclusion.
An anonymous tipster would soon send a four-minute edited clip of the conversation to the website Deadspin, claiming that the video would ‘expose’ Nichols as a ‘back-stabber’ and phony ally to the cause of Black Lives Matter.
Some suggest that it is likely that Nichols inadvertently failed to turn off a video camera that she carried with her that connected to a server back at ESPN headquarters which was recording her. While her voice was captured, Nichols is not seen in the frame as she spoke to Mendelsohn.
The recording captures Nichols’ private conversation with Adam Mendelsohn, a high-powered communications strategist. As she was trying to book an interview with two of his star clients – Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and his teammate, Anthony Davis, Nichols sought Mendelsohn’s advice on how to navigate the internal corporate politics at ESPN. Among other things, she can be heard saying, ‘I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world – she covers football, she covers basketball. ‘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.’ Mendelsohn was heard saying, ‘I don’t know. I’m exhausted. Between MeToo and Black Lives Matter, I got nothing left.’ Later in the conversation, Mendelsohn warned Nichols: ‘Be careful because that place is a snake pit.’
The comments by Mendelsohn, who worked for former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger before teaming up with James and Davis, were also considered controversial among ESPN employees.
When contacted by the media, Nichols said her conversation with Mendelsohn was her ‘unloading to a friend about ESPN’s process, not about Maria’ and that she tried to contact Maria (Taylor) through phone calls and text messages to offer an apology, but Maria has chosen not to respond.
What Tylor elected to do was tell executives she would no longer work with Nichols. ‘I will not call myself a victim, but I certainly have felt victimized, and I do not feel as though my complaints have been taken seriously,’ Taylor wrote in an email to ESPN executives two weeks after the incident. She initially told them that she would not finish out the NBA season, but days later, Taylor agreed to continue hosting NBA Countdown on one condition – Nichols was not to appear on the show.
Taylor told the Times that she believes ESPN executives agreed to her condition, but then reneged when they had Nichols appear on Countdown in segments that did not entail any interaction between the two women – ESPN had all of Nichols’ appearances on Countdown pre-recorded so as to avoid any interactions with Taylor.
Taylor’s contract expires in less than two weeks and ESPN has offered her a lucrative contract in the neighborhood of $3 million per year, which represents three times what she is currently making, reports the Post. If a new agreement isn’t reached, it is unclear right now what ESPN and Taylor would do if the Suns-Bucks series extends to July 20th, outside the date of her current contract.
The NBA concluded its 2019-2020 season from a ‘bubble’ in Orlando, where a secluded site was set up to protect players, coaches, and other personnel from the fast-spreading coronavirus.