Benched: ESPN sits NBA reporter Rachel Nichols for Suns-Bucks Finals amid furor over Maria Taylor race comment

  • ESPN revealed it benched white NBA reporter Rachel Nichols from pre-game and halftime coverage of the Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns.
  • The move came amid furor over Nichols' suggestion in a call last year that her Black colleague Maria Taylor got a hosting gig for the 2020 Finals because of her race.
  • Adam Mendelsohn, an advisor to Lakers star LeBron James, told Nichols in that call, "I'm exhausted. Between Me Too and Black Lives Matter, I got nothing left."
  • Mendelsohn apologized for that comment in an email to CNBC.

ESPN took action — a year later.

The sports channel on Tuesday revealed it has benched white NBA reporter Rachel Nichols from sideline coverage of the Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns amid a furor over her suggestion last year that her Black colleague Maria Taylor got a hosting gig for the 2020 Finals because of her race.

ESPN's move came two days after The New York Times published a bombshell report that detailed the circumstances of Nichols' accidentally recorded comments in July 2020, and the backlash they caused within the Walt Disney-owned sports cable TV giant. Nichols reportedly has never been disciplined for her comments about Taylor during the call.

Taylor will appear on NBA Countdown with other ESPN reporters for pre-game and halftime coverage of the NBA Finals, ESPN said.

Malika Andrews will handle sideline reporting during the Finals, the network said. Nichols handled that assignment during the pro basketball playoffs.

But Nichols will appear on her show "The Jump" on-site from the Finals games "for weekday shows," ESPN said.

The Finals tip off Tuesday night in Phoenix, and will be broadcast by ABC.

"We believe this is [the] best decision for all concerned in order to keep the focus on the NBA Finals. Rachel will continue to host The Jump," the network said in a statement issued as it announced its lineup for Finals coverage.

On Monday, Nichols apologized for the controversy as she opened The Jump's broadcast.

"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," Nichols said. "How deeply, deeply sorry I am for disappointing those I hurt, particularly Maria Taylor, and how grateful I am to be a part of this team."

On Sunday, the Times reported that Taylor's colleagues in May discussed whether they would refuse to appear on NBA Countdown in protest over changes to the production, which they believed were made to benefit Nichols.

On the July 13, 2020 phone call from her Florida hotel room, Nichols griped about Taylor getting the 2020 pre- and post-game Finals host slot to Adam Mendelsohn, a long-time advisor to Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.

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That call was captured on a video feed to ESPN's control room in Connecticut because Nichols was unaware that she had failed to turn off the transmission from a camera in her room.

In that call, Nichols suggested to Mendelsohn, who is white, that Taylor got the spot because of her race.

"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 said.

Mendelsohn shortly afterward in that call, "I don't know. I'm exhausted. Between Me Too and Black Lives Matter, I got nothing left."

Nichols laughed at his remark.

A tape of the call circulated within ESPN shortly after the video was transmitted to Connecticut without Nichols' knowledge.

Mendelsohn apologized for that comment on Sunday in an email to CNBC after being asked about it.

"I made a stupid, careless comment rooted in privilege and I am sincerely sorry," said Mendelsohn, who last year co-founded James's Black voter advocacy group More Than A Vote.

"I shouldn't have said it or even thought it," Mendelsohn said in an email.

"I work to support these movements and know that the people affected by these issues never get to be exhausted or have nothing left. I have to continue to check my privilege and work to be a better ally," he added.

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