Recently Surfaced Video Concerning Diversity Sparks Backlash at ESPN

AP Jessica Hill
AP Photo/Jessica Hill

A video chat recorded unknowingly recorded by white ESPN reporter Rachel Nichols has caused hard feelings among many of the network’s staffers.

The recording makes many feel that their white colleagues don’t really support the network’s drive for diversity if it ends up unseating whites from on-air roles.

In the recording, Nichols is heard unloading on ESPN in a conversation with Adam Mendelsohn, an adviser to L.A. Lakers star LeBron James and James’s agent, Rich Paul. In the July 2020 conversation, Nichols was furious about being passed over for an important NBA assignment and felt that ESPN had given the hosting duties for the network’s pregame and postgame shows during the NBA playoffs to Maria Taylor, because she is black.

The conversation with Mendelsohn occurred while Nichols was quarantined in her room at a Disney resort thanks to ESPN’s coronavirus rules. The Times said she had brought a camera for her computer because she expected to continue participating in on-air spots from her hotel room. However, it appears that Nichols was unaware that her camera and audio were recording her phone call, and the feed was being uploaded to the ESPN servers.

After being accidentally uploaded, ESPN employees discovered the recording and raised a stink about Nichols’ attacks on the network and its black employees.

The substance of the recording was first reported in a July 4 expose by the New York Times (which also posted the audio of the conversation), in which it was revealed that Nichols was upset that ESPN was taking broadcast opportunities she believes were contractually hers, and giving them to Taylor as part of an effort to promote “diversity.”

“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols said in the recording, the Times wrote. “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.”

Nichols then complained that ESPN decided to hurt her career to satisfy its need for “diversity.”

“I just want them to go somewhere else — it’s in my contract, by the way; this job is in my contract in writing,” she continued a few minutes after telling Mendelsohn that the network was “feeling pressure” to offer a more “diverse” on-air staff.

For his part, Mendelsohn also professed frustration with “diversity,” saying, “I don’t know. I’m exhausted. Between Me Too and Black Lives Matter, I got nothing left.” He then cautioned Nichols to tread carefully on the subject because ESPN is a “snake pit.”

Nichols also attacked “conservative male Trump voters” for making her career difficult, saying, “Those same people — who are, like, generally white conservative male Trump voters — is 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?”

After various members of ESPN began passing the recording amongst each other, the network’s chief, Jimmy Pitaro, felt the need to call several commentators to smooth the waters. The Times clams that Pitaro called NBA Countdown hosts Jalen Rose, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Jay Williams, as well as Taylor to try and smooth their ruffled feathers. The Times also reported that Taylor said she would only return to NBA Countdown if Nichols was barred from the show.

In the months since the recording was passed around to nearly every ESPN employee, Nichols says that she has tried to reach out to Taylor to apologize. Still, she added that “Maria has chosen not to respond to these offers, which is completely fair and a decision I respect.”

But the hurt feelings won’t subside any time soon. The Times added that it had spoken to several black and Hispanic ESPN staffers. Some of them spoke of their frustration that the recording seemed to prove that their woke, white ESPN colleagues may act like they support more diversity, but behind closed doors and when they think minority co-workers are not listening, they talk a different game.

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