Rachel Nichols | Maria Taylor | ESPN | 22nd November 2021 | Virtual Wire
Picture -NY Post
In the summer of 2021, right before the NBA Finals matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks vs. the Phoenix Suns, little did the general public know, there was an issue brewing between Rachel Nichols, Maria Taylor & ESPN that had been under wraps for about a year, which started in the NBA Bubble during the thick of the pandemic.
An audio recording leaked of Rachel Nichols venting about ESPN not honouring their contract with her & wanting to replace her with Maria Taylor, after all the work she had put in from the beginning for the NBA Bubble, giving the audience the blow-by-blow of what was going on in the Disney Bubble. In the audio, Rachel Nichols made mention of ESPN’s “crappy history” with diversity, especially from the female perspective. That sparked a huge debate, especially on social media. Everyone immediately jumped to Maria Taylor’s defence, even though Rachel Nichols didn’t say anything flagrantly disrespectful about Maria Taylor or her talent as a reporter or journalist. In fact, Rachel complimented Maria’s work ethic.
However, Nichols’ statement was no secret at ESPN, due to the fact that Mike Hill, Jemele Hill & Cari Champion have all expressed their frustrations & difficulties of their tenure at the network. While I didn’t think Maria was a “diversity hire.” I do feel like the “leaked audio” by producer Kayla Johnson, was a smokescreen & Rachel Nichols & the success of her show The Jump, made the ESPN executives somewhat uncomfortable. The other moving parts of the situation goes unnoticed. Here are the other moving parts:
The success of ESPN’s The Jump:
The Jump was a very popular mid-day show hosted & executive produced by Rachel Nichols herself, where she & other NBA journalists & retired Hall Of Fame players & champions discuss all things NBA for 30 minutes. Aside from Nichols, the reoccurring staples of the show were Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Matt Barnes, Stephen Jackson, Scottie Pippen, Kendrick Perkins, Richard Jefferson, Chiney Ogwumike & others. According to Nichols, the show was given a 5 month run from February to July of 2016. However, toward the end of its 5-month run, Nichols & crew hosted the 2016 Free Agency Special that ran past Midnight & Nichols & ESPN saw a solid turnout for the special which further boosted the popularity of the daytime show & took from a half-hour daily show to an hour-long daily show & The Jump went from a 5-month test run to a 5-year hit show.
Nichols & The Jump would also go on to host the Trade Deadline Special, the NBA Draft Lottery Special but things for her & ESPN may have started to take a turn when she & The Jump crew began hosting the Saturday Night Primetime NBA games on ESPN’s parent network, ABC, which would eventually replace ESPN’s NBA Countdown, which was a primetime panel show hosted by Maria Taylor, after replacing Michelle Beadle. That might have been the start of the issues that ESPN was facing with the 2 ladies.
Women like Maria Taylor, Malika & Kendra Andrews, Joy Taylor, Ros-Gold Onwude & Taylor Rooks, just to name a few, were rising stars in the booming business of journalism. They are beautiful & articulate women, who are under 40, with a great knowledge of the game. They have big & bright personalities & a strong social media presence. So naturally, networks like ESPN, Fox Sports 1 & Turner Sports would recognize that & try to keep them on the network. Meanwhile, someone like Rachel Nichols, who is in her mid-40s, a seasoned veteran in the business of sports journalism, which begs the question, did ESPN expect The Jump to be that successful & were they really aware of Rachel Nichols’ audience & the potential of her brand prior to her producing The Jump?
Did ESPN underestimate her tenure at TNT/Turner Sports & the audience she built? Before her fallout at ESPN, Rachel Nichols & The Jump was getting major coverage & promotion. Nichols was doing interviews with the All The Smoke Podcast with Matt Barnes & Stephen Jackson, two guys who credit Nichols’ for giving them their start in sports journalism, as well as television shows like Extra & Jimmy Kimmel, which showed more of Rachel’s personality & put more of a spotlight on her career & The Jump & how the show was created.
Gender & Financial Equality:
Before the audio leaked, there were rumours & rumblings were that Maria Taylor was demanding a big contract from ESPN. If that was true, I can’t say I blame her, considering everyone is coming out of a pandemic & her male co-workers like Jalen Rose, Richard Jefferson & Kendrick Perkins were getting contract extensions & from the outside looking in, Maria appeared to be last in line when it came to her contract renewal. It was also rumoured that Maria was asking for “Stephen A. Smith Money” which, if true, may be considered a bit too much of a demand, considering Stephen A Smith is The Face of ESPN & the networks most polarizing figure.
Also, he was THEE GUY that transcended the networks biggest show, ESPN First Take, into the Pop Culture stratosphere. Again, if that rumour was true, though she was a rising star for ESPN, I don’t know if her resume at ESPN could match what Stephen A. Smith has done for the network over the years. All in all, ESPN ended up losing both ladies after this entire debacle. Maria Taylor went over to NBC to host the 2021 Olympic Games & then went back to host Sunday Night Football after the NBA Finals.
ESPN parted ways with Rachel Nichols & dropped The Jump from the network, but considering that the show had been on the air for 5 years, syndication territory, it may have ended on bad terms between her & ESPN, but one can make a case that when her contract legally expires, she may be the most sought after journalist in all of sports media. The success of The Jump increased her stock more than the leaked audio controversy almost decreased her stock. So in hindsight, Maria Taylor & Rachel Nichols was ESPN’s loss & NBC’s gain, as well as whichever network that signs Rachel Nichols in the near future.