Rachel Nichols is removed by her network as ESPN continues to mismanage its internal controversy.
With a mounting story of internal drama playing out on a national stage, ESPN has completely marginalized one of its more prominent reporters. Rachel Nichols has not been seen as the NBA finals began last night. Over the weekend the New York Times revealed an internal catfight taking place at ESPN surrounding its NBA coverage team. As Jerry Wilson detailed, hostess Rachel Nichols was caught on tape complaining that the network was opting to move Maria Taylor to the main desk, passing her over in its playoff assignments, and she cited the reason was ESPN becoming beholden to woke sensibilities.
This has resulted in Nichols issuing an apology to Taylor, as well as a general apology on her show, ‘’The Jump’’. Taylor has been reported to be cold towards Nichols ovations, and the network had moved Nichols from live reports with the coverage team, seemingly at Taylor’s request. ESPN first said they would just go without an arena reporter, but Tuesday Malika Andrews was seen as a courtside replacement. Then, after issuing a statement announcing Nichols would stay with her show, (“This was the best decision for all concerned in order to keep the focus on the NBA Finals,”) Nichols did not appear on her own program last night.
This entire episode is one of a series of one bad decision followed by another, to the point that a national paper broke the evolving telenovela-level of infighting. The entire thing kicks off with Nichols having to broadcast from a hotel room, due to the pandemic, and she left her video on — Toobin style — as she complained about her network. This recording managed to be loaded onto ESPN servers and was accessible to those at the network. What reveals the incompetence at ESPN is the timing of things.
While this episode feels like inopportune timing as the NBA Finals commence, it is a long-simmering issue the network never addressed in the correct fashion. The recording that sparked this feud took place last summer. It was known by the network but the executives opted to let it fall by the wayside, expecting it to fade away. For the Times to have access to the leaked recording speaks to the internal machinations. The entire timing would indicate this is a fed piece, likely from Taylor’s camp, as she is currently in the process of contract negotiations.
Taylor’s contract is up in a couple of weeks, and at a time when the network has been culling its on-air personalities in cost-cutting decisions, Taylor is pushing for a significant increase in pay. Internal racial strife could be seen as an attempt at leveraging the network. And at least for now, the network appears to be buckling.
This entire episode smacks of the writer at The Times, Kevin Draper, being fed the information from Taylor’s camp. Consider, why would a year-old story be coming out now, on the cusp of the Finals, when it carries no real significance? The network does not want this, and the NBA needs to have a focus on its game after posting record lows last season. Nichols had no interest in dredging up this episode from a year ago, and Draper himself tips his hand, declaring that one source tells him the network was favoring Nichols.
There is no evidence of this favoritism, however. One of the reasons Nichols was expressing this frustration last summer was a portion of the recording where she cited the fact that her contract had a stipulation stating she would be part of the Finals cast. Clearly, she was being shunted. Now this year, after declaring Nichols would be safe in her own program’s orbit, she has been dispatched, at least for the time being. This is especially notable at the time of arguably the biggest exposure, Game One of the NBA Finals.
Taylor is clearly the one benefitting from all of this conflict, and she has been using a growing amount of power over recent years. The Times piece shows where she has been lobbying for certain positions to be filled by specific individuals, she has experienced a growing presence across numerous sports broadcasts, and she has already been offered a significant raise into the millions of dollars at a time when the network is trimming salaries.
It is not unreasonable to connect the events of this tape getting released with a contract negotiation, one where Taylor is pushing for a salary north of $5 million. Marginalizing another female reporter covering the league is a gambit, and looping in racial strife and oppression is certainly a way to cow a network into doing your bidding. Nichols has become ostracized, as possibly planned, now it remains to see how frightened ESPN is in all of this self-created drama it could have ended one year ago.