The National Association of Black Journalists has demanded to meet with ESPN to discuss its diversity and inclusion efforts. Their desire to meet with the worldwide leader in sports is largely driven by a recent report from New York Times. The recently released report shared a lengthy recording of ESPN host Rachel Nichols insinuating that her colleague, Maria Taylor, received an enhanced role during the 2021 NBA Finals because of her race rather than her talent.
“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols told communication strategist Adam Mendelsohn last summer.
“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.”
After her conversation with Mendelsohn was recorded internally, digital video producer Kayla Johnson shared it with Taylor and reported it to human resources. In response, Johnson was suspended without pay for two weeks and Nichols was able to return to work without stoppage. Nichols was not reprimanded or forced to apologize until the recording was shared in its entirety with the public. This week, the ESPN host was removed from NBA Finals coverage and addressed the matter on The Jump.
“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.
“But 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.”
As the story unfolded, several former ESPN on-air reporters spoke about the discrimination that they had faced while at the company. Former SportsCenter anchor Mike Hill went as far as to say he was told he was "too ghetto" to be on-air.
"There has not been one Black person that I can think of right now that has not gone through hell at ESPN," he added.
The National Association of Black Journalists is now looking to address the matter of diversity and inclusion at ESPN directly. On Thursday, the organization issued a public statement regarding their efforts.
"Nichols’ comments and the actions that followed over the last year were not only disappointing but disparaging given the ongoing reports by Black journalists of white men advancing at ESPN because of their skin tone and not by merit," the statement reads.
"ESPN’s response to the matter was even more appalling, as the Times has documented what appears to be an attempt by ESPN to sweep the matter under the rug until it was recently exposed in greater detail. The company’s actions could have alienated Taylor and left another Black employee punished for exposing the matter."
In response, ESPN issued a statement of their own. However, the statement did not indicate that they would meet with the NABJ.
"We’re proud to lead the sports media industry in making significant progress to develop and place diverse talent on-air and in key leadership positions,” ESPN replied.
“Diversity, inclusion and equity are top priorities at ESPN. We recognize more work needs to be done, and we will continue our commitment to creating a culture that reflects our values. Our partnership with NABJ is an integral part of that commitment.”