As ESPN’s Rachel Nichols continues to face backlash for comments she made regarding colleague Maria Taylor, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he believes she should not have her career taken away over her comments.
While Silver, speaking during a press conference before Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Suns and Bucks, called the situation at ESPN “disheartening,” he said that it should be recognized that people, “especially long-term employees that are in good standing” make mistakes.
“That careers shouldn’t be erased by a single comment. That we should be judging people by the larger context of their body of work and who they are and what we know about them,” Silver said.
Silver said that it was “particularly unfortunate that two women in the industry are pitted against each other,” and said both Taylor and Nichols are “terrific at what they do.”
He added that he felt part of the issue was that ESPN was unable to get everyone in the room to have the challenging conversations.
“This is an incident that happened I guess when Rachel was in the bubble a year ago, and I would have thought that in the past year, maybe through some incredibly difficult conversations that ESPN would have found a way to be able to work through it,” Silver said. “Obviously not.”
Silver said he has confidence in ESPN and Disney leadership and that the company will be able to work through the situation, but said it is particularly challenging to deal with this in the sports and media industry given that everything plays out publicly whereas in other businesses, it is handled by human resources departments.
“These issues are not unique to ESPN. As I said, the league is working on its own issues in terms of doing a better job with diversity and it’s not just in sports, but in companies around America. There’s a reckoning going on,” Silver said. “I think part of it from what we’re seeing at ESPN, it’s one thing to talk about the principles around diversity and inclusion. It’s something else when it comes to somebody’s specific job and how that’s handled. And what I’ve learned from dealing with these issues in the NBA is that they are incredibly complex.”
Nichols, who is white, has come under fire after a report from The New York Times came out on Sunday that she made comments, which were recorded and saved in ESPN’s servers, to LeBron James advisor Adam Mendelsohn and agent Rich Paul that Taylor, who is Black, was hosting the 2020 NBA Finals because the network was “feeling pressure” to be more diverse.
“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols said in the call. “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.
“I just want them to go somewhere else — it’s in my contract, by the way; this job is in my contract in writing.”
“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 a part of this outstanding team.”
ESPN announced on Tuesday that Nichols would not be reporting on the sidelines during ABC’s coverage of the NBA Finals, and that instead it would be Malika Andrews. Nichols will continue to work on “The Jump” during the postseason.
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